Local Heat Applications as a Treatment of Physical and Functional Parameters in Acute and Chronic Musculoskeletal Disorders or Pain

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2022 Mar;103(3):505-522. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2021.06.015. Epub 2021 Jul 18.


Objectives: The aim of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to evaluate the effectiveness of local heat applications (LHAs) in individuals with acute or chronic musculoskeletal disorders.

Data sources: An electronic search was conducted on MEDLINE, Cochrane Controlled Register of Trials, Current Nursing and Allied Health Literature, and the Physiotherapy Evidence databases up to December 2019.

Study selection: Studies incorporating adults with any kind of musculoskeletal issues treated by LHA compared with any treatment other than heat were included.

Data extraction: Two authors independently performed the methodological quality assessment using the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool.

Data synthesis: LHA showed beneficial immediate effects to reduce pain vs no treatment (P<.001), standard therapy (P=.020), pharmacologic therapy (P<.001), and placebo/sham (P=.044). Physical function was restored after LHA compared with no treatment (P=.025) and standard therapy (P=.006), whereas disability improved directly after LHA compared with pharmacologic therapy (P=.003) and placebo/sham (P<.028). Quality of life was improved directly after LHA treatment compared with exercise therapy (P<.021). Range of motion increased and stiffness decreased after LHA treatment compared with pharmacologic therapy (P=.009, P<.001) and placebo/sham (P<.001, P=.023). The immediate superior effects of LHA on muscular strength could be observed compared with no treatment (P<.001), cold (P<.001), and placebo/sham (P=.023).

Conclusions: Individuals with acute musculoskeletal disorders might benefit from using LHA as an adjunct therapy. However, the studies included in this meta-analysis demonstrated a high heterogeneity and mostly an unclear risk of bias.

Keywords: Hot temperature; Meta-analysis; Musculoskeletal diseases; Pain; Physical therapy modalities; Quality of life; Rehabilitation; Review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Hyperthermia, Induced*
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases* / therapy
  • Pain
  • Quality of Life