Local heating of trigger points reduces neck and plantar fascia pain

J Back Musculoskelet Rehabil. 2020;33(1):21-28. doi: 10.3233/BMR-181222.


Background: Heating the skin and muscles is a commonly accepted method of pain relief and a modality to increase relaxation in muscles and increase tissue blood flow.

Objective: The purpose of the present study was to examine the effect of local heat applied to trigger points and to determine if there was pain relief in the neck and plantar fascia.

Methods: Forty adults were divided into 2 different groups according to their pain; twenty subjects had plantar foot pain and the other 20 had nonspecific neck pain. The 20 subjects in each group were randomly subdivided into a heat and a sham group. Sensitivity to pressure was measured with an algometer. A stopwatch was given to the subject and started when either the heat patch or placebo was applied. Heat cells were applied at trigger points on the pain area.

Results: Subjective pain significantly decreased in both sham and heat group patients with neck pain (p< 0.05), however, the change was greater in the heat group and there was a significant difference between the heat and sham groups (p= 0.002, d= 0.81). For the plantar pain group, a significant decrease in subjective pain was found in the heat group but not in the sham group. Pressure pain threshold significantly decreased in the heat group patients both with neck and plantar pain but for the sham group there was an increase in the pressure after sham treatment. Pain relief during the intervention was also significantly different between the heat and sham group in both patients with neck and plantar pain.

Conclusion: The effect of local heat on trigger points of the body on pain relief was significantly better in the heat groups than in the sham groups. This finding is significant because using heat on trigger points could be an alternative to dry needling performed by healthcare professionals. This modality can be alternative for home use and avoids opioids.

Keywords: Heat; neck; pain; plantar fascia; trigger point.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Fascia / physiopathology
  • Fasciitis, Plantar / physiopathology
  • Fasciitis, Plantar / therapy*
  • Female
  • Foot / physiopathology
  • Hot Temperature / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Neck Pain / physiopathology
  • Neck Pain / therapy*
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Pain Threshold / physiology
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Trigger Points / physiopathology*
  • Young Adult