Impact of heat therapy on recovery after eccentric exercise in humans

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2019 Apr 1;126(4):965-976. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00910.2018. Epub 2019 Jan 3.


The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of heat therapy (HT) on functional recovery, the skeletal muscle expression of angiogenic factors, macrophage content, and capillarization after eccentric exercise in humans. Eleven untrained individuals (23.8 ± 0.6 yr) performed 300 bilateral maximal eccentric contractions of the knee extensors. One randomly selected thigh was treated with five daily 90-min sessions of HT, whereas the opposite thigh received a thermoneutral intervention. Peak isokinetic torque of the knee extensors was assessed at baseline and daily for 4 days and fatigue resistance was assessed at baseline and 1 and 4 days after the eccentric exercise session. Muscle biopsies were obtained 2 wk before and 1 and 5 days after the eccentric exercise bout. There were no differences between thighs in the overall recovery profile of peak torque. However, the thigh exposed to HT had greater fatigue resistance than the thigh exposed to the thermoneutral intervention. The change from baseline in mRNA expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) was higher at day 1 in the thigh exposed to HT. Protein levels of VEGF and angiopoietin 1 were also significantly higher in the thigh treated with HT. The number of capillaries around type II fibers decreased similarly in both thighs at day 5. Exposure to HT had no impact on macrophage content. These results suggest that HT accelerates the recovery of fatigue resistance after eccentric exercise and promotes the expression of angiogenic factors in human skeletal muscle. NEW & NOTEWORTHY We investigated whether exposure to local heat therapy (HT) accelerates recovery after a bout of eccentric exercise in humans. Compared with a thermoneutral control intervention, HT improved fatigue resistance of the knee extensors and enhanced the expression of the angiogenic mediators vascular endothelial growth factor and angiopoietin 1. These results suggest that HT hastens functional recovery and enhances the expression of regulatory factors involved in muscle repair after eccentric exercise in humans.

Keywords: functional recovery; heat therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Angiogenesis Inducing Agents / metabolism
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Knee Joint / metabolism
  • Knee Joint / physiology
  • Male
  • Muscle Fatigue / physiology
  • Muscle Strength / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Thigh / physiology
  • Torque
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / metabolism
  • Young Adult


  • Angiogenesis Inducing Agents
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A