Clinical Scenario: Cryotherapy is one of the most commonly used modalities for postexercise muscle recovery despite inconsistencies in the literature validating its effectiveness. With the need to find a more effective modality, photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT) has gained popularity because of recent research demonstrating its ability to accelerate the muscle recovery process. Focused Clinical Question: Is PBMT more effective than cryotherapy at reducing recovery time and decreasing delayed onset muscle soreness after strenuous exercise? Summary of Key Findings: Three moderate- to high-quality double-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled trials and 2 low- to moderate-quality translational studies performed on rats were included in this critically appraised topic. All 5 studies supported the use of PBMT over cryotherapy as a treatment for postexercise muscle recovery following exercise. PBMT was superior in reducing creatine kinase, inflammation markers, and blood lactate compared with cryotherapy, following strenuous/high intensity aerobic or strength muscular exercise. PBMT was also shown to improve postexercise muscle performance and function more than cryotherapy. Clinical Bottom Line: There is moderate evidence to suggest the use of PBMT over cryotherapy postexercise to enhance muscle recovery in trained and untrained athletes. Shorter recovery times and increased muscle performance can be seen 24 to 96 hours following PBMT application. Strength of Recommendation: Based on consistent findings from all 5 studies, there is grade B evidence to support the use of PBMT over cryotherapy for more effective postexercise recovery of skeletal muscle performance.
Keywords: cold therapy; cold-water immersion therapy; laser therapy; light therapy; post-exercise.