Effect of superficial heat, deep heat, and active exercise warm-up on the extensibility of the plantar flexors

Phys Ther. 2001 Jun;81(6):1206-14.


Background and purpose: Warm-up prior to static stretching enhances muscle extensibility. The relative effectiveness of different modes of warm-up, however, is unknown. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of superficial heat, deep heat, and active exercise warm-up prior to stretching compared with stretching alone on the extensibility of the plantar-flexor muscles.

Subjects: Ninety-seven subjects (59 women, 38 men) with limited dorsiflexion range of motion (ROM) were randomly assigned to 1 of 5 groups. Female subjects had a mean age of 27.6 years (SD=7.68, range=17-50), and male subjects had a mean age of 26.8 years (SD=6.87, range=18-48).

Methods: The first group (group 1) was a control group and did not perform the stretching protocol. The 4 experimental groups (groups 2-5) performed a stretching protocol 3 days per week for 6 weeks. Group 2 performed the static stretching protocol only; group 3 performed active heel raises before stretching; group 4 received 15 minutes of superficial, moist heat to the plantar-flexor muscles before stretching; and group 5 received continuous ultrasound for 7 minutes before stretching. Dorsiflexion ROM measurements were taken initially and after 2, 4, and 6 weeks.

Results: All experimental groups increased active and passive range of motion (AROM and PROM). The mean AROM/PROM differences at 6 weeks were 1.11/1.39 degrees for group 1, 4.10/6.11 degrees for group 2, 4.16/4.21 degrees for group 3, 4.38/4.90 degrees for group 4, and 6.20/7.35 degrees for group 5. The group receiving ultrasound before performing the stretching protocol (group 5) displayed the greatest increase in both AROM (6.20() and PROM (7.35().

Discussion and conclusion: Among the modalities tested, the use of ultrasound for 7 minutes prior to stretching may be the most effective for increasing ankle dorsiflexion ROM.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hot Temperature / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Leg
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Muscle Relaxation / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity