Low-power, soft, or low-level laser irradiation has been successfully used to provide analgesia in injured or diseased tissues. In this study, we tested the possible antinociceptive effect of laser irradiation when applied to a normal tissue before the onset of a painful stimulus. Male Wistar rats (350-380 g) were used. A 1.5% formalin solution (50 microL s.c., diluted in saline) was injected into the right upper lip of the test animals (n = 9) immediately after 10 min of low-power Er:YAG laser irradiation (wavelength: 2.94 microm; energy: 0.1 J/cm(2)/pulse at 10 Hz). Control animals (n = 9) were restrained for 10 min without laser application. The nociceptive response, i.e., the amount of time the rats spent rubbing the formalin injected area, was measured by an investigator blind to whether the animals had been laser irradiated or not. On laser irradiated rats, significantly less nociceptive behavior was observed only during the late phase (12-39 min) of the test. This result is similar to that reported for nonsteroid antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and other peripherally acting antiinflammatory agents. We conclude that low-power laser irradiation have a tonic antinociceptive effect on inflammatory pain even when applied before tissue injury.