The Effectiveness of Physical Agents for Lower-Limb Soft Tissue Injuries: A Systematic Review

J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2016 Jul;46(7):523-54. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2016.6521. Epub 2016 Jun 6.


Study Design Systematic review. Background Soft tissue injuries to the lower limb bring a substantial health and economic burden to society. Physical agents are commonly used to treat these injuries. However, the effectiveness of many such physical agents is not clearly established in the literature. Objective To evaluate the effectiveness and safety of physical agents for soft tissue injuries of the lower limb. Methods We searched 5 databases from 1990 to 2015 for randomized controlled trials (RCTs), cohort studies, and case-control studies. Paired reviewers independently screened the retrieved literature and appraised relevant studies using the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network criteria. Studies with a high risk of bias were excluded. We synthesized low-risk-of-bias studies according to principles of best-evidence synthesis. Results We screened 10261 articles. Of 43 RCTs identified, 20 had a high risk of bias and were excluded from the analysis, and 23 RCTs had a low risk of bias and were included in the analysis. The available higher-quality evidence suggests that patients with persistent plantar fasciitis may benefit from ultrasound or foot orthoses, while those with persistent midportion Achilles tendinopathy may benefit from shockwave therapy. However, the current evidence does not support the use of shockwave therapy for recent plantar fasciitis, low-Dye taping for persistent plantar fasciitis, low-level laser therapy for recent ankle sprains, or splints for persistent midportion Achilles tendinopathy. Finally, evidence on the effectiveness of the following interventions is not established in the current literature: (1) shockwave therapy for persistent plantar fasciitis, (2) cryotherapy or assistive devices for recent ankle sprains, (3) braces for persistent midportion Achilles tendinopathy, and (4) taping or electric muscle stimulation for patellofemoral pain syndrome. Conclusion Almost half the identified RCTs that evaluated the effectiveness of physical agents for the management of lower-limb soft tissue injuries had a high risk of bias. High-quality RCTs are still needed to assess the effectiveness of physical agents for managing the broad range of lower-limb soft tissue injuries. The effectiveness of most interventions remains unclear. Level of Evidence Therapy, 1a. Protocol registered July 10, 2014 with PROSPERO (CRD42014010621). J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2016;46(7):523-554. Epub 6 Jun 2016. doi:10.2519/jospt.2016.6521.

Keywords: assistive devices; lower limb; physical agents; recovery; soft tissue injuries.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Humans
  • Lower Extremity / injuries*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Soft Tissue Injuries / therapy*