In post-mastectomy patients, lymphedema has the potential to become a permanent progressive condition and become extremely resistant to treatment. Thus, it can results in function impairment and decrease quality of life. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of low level laser therapy (LLLT) on limb volume, shoulder mobility, and hand grip strength.

Fifty women with breast cancer-related lymphedema were enrolled in a double-blind, placebo controlled trial. Patients were randomly assigned to active laser (n = 25) and placebo (n = 25) groups and received irradiation with Ga-As laser device that had wavelength of 904 nm, power of 5 mW, and spot size of 0.2 cm(2) over the axillary and arm areas, three times a week for 12 wk. The total energy applied at each point was 300 mjoules over seven points, giving a dosage of 1.5 joules/cm(2) in the active group. The placebo group received placebo therapy in which the laser had been disabled without affecting its apparent function. Limb circumference, shoulder mobility, and grip strength were measured before treatment and at 4, 8, and 12 wk.

The two groups had similar parameters at baseline. The reduction of limb volume tended to decline in both groups. The trend being more significantly pronounced in active LLLT group than placebo at 8 and 12 wk, respectively (P < 0.05). Goniometric data for shoulder mobility and hand grip strength were statistically significance for LLLT group than for placebo.

Laser treatment was found to be effective in reducing the limb volume, increase shoulder mobility, and hand grip strength in approximately 93% of patients with postmastectomy lymphedema.