The effectiveness of soft-tissue therapy for the management of musculoskeletal disorders and injuries of the upper and lower extremities: A systematic review by the Ontario Protocol for Traffic Injury management (OPTIMa) collaboration

Man Ther. 2016 Feb;21:18-34. doi: 10.1016/j.math.2015.08.011. Epub 2015 Aug 29.


Background: Soft-tissue therapy is commonly used to manage musculoskeletal injuries.

Objective: To determine the effectiveness of soft-tissue therapy for the management of musculoskeletal disorders and injuries of the upper and lower extremities.

Design: Systematic Review.

Methods: We searched six databases from 1990 to 2015 and critically appraised eligible articles using Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) criteria. Evidence from studies with low risk of bias was synthesized using best-evidence synthesis methodology.

Results: We screened 9869 articles and critically appraised seven; six had low risk of bias. Localized relaxation massage provides added benefits to multimodal care immediately post-intervention for carpal tunnel syndrome. Movement re-education (contraction/passive stretching) provides better long-term benefit than one corticosteroid injection for lateral epicondylitis. Myofascial release improves outcomes compared to sham ultrasound for lateral epicondylitis. Diacutaneous fibrolysis (DF) or sham DF leads to similar outcomes in pain intensity for subacromial impingement syndrome. Trigger point therapy may provide limited or no additional benefit when combined with self-stretching for plantar fasciitis; however, myofascial release to the gastrocnemius, soleus and plantar fascia is effective.

Conclusion: Our review clarifies the role of soft-tissue therapy for the management of upper and lower extremity musculoskeletal disorders and injuries. Myofascial release therapy was effective for treating lateral epicondylitis and plantar fasciitis. Movement re-education was also effective for managing lateral epicondylitis. Localized relaxation massage combined with multimodal care may provide short-term benefit for treating carpal tunnel syndrome. More high quality research is needed to study the appropriateness and comparative effectiveness of this widely utilized form of treatment.

Keywords: Massage; Musculoskeletal injuries; Soft-tissue therapy; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / statistics & numerical data
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Lower Extremity / injuries*
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / therapy*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Soft Tissue Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Soft Tissue Injuries / therapy*
  • Systematic Reviews as Topic
  • Upper Extremity / injuries*
  • Young Adult