Objectives: Myofascial trigger points (MTPs) are one of the most important causes of musculoskeletal pain. Evidence has suggested a positive effect of manual therapy in the treatment of MTPs. However, a comprehensive review comparing the effect of different manual therapy techniques are lacking. Thus, we conducted a network meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials to determine the type of manual therapy technique that has the greatest positive influence in patients with MTPs.
Materials and methods: PubMed, Web of Science, Cochrane Library, and Scopus databases were searched to identify direct and indirect evidence comparing the effectiveness of different types of manual therapy interventions on pain intensity and pressure pain threshold (PPT) in patients with MTPs. Risk of bias was assessed using the Cochrane RoB2 tool. A pairwise meta-analysis for direct and indirect comparisons between intervention and control/nonintervention groups was carried out.
Results: A total of 37 studies were eligible for analysis. Combined interventions had the highest effect size for pain (-1.40; 95% CI, -2.34, -0.47), and the highest probability to be the best intervention and the highest Surface Under the Cumulative Ranking (64.7% and 87.9%, respectively). Afferent reduction techniques, understood as the interventions aimed to restore muscle spindles helping to dictate sarcomere length and tone in MTPs, had the highest effect size for PPT (0.93; 95% CI, 0.47, 1.39), and the highest probability to be the best intervention and the highest Surface Under the Cumulative Ranking (34.7% and 71.2%, respectively). The results were consistent in sensitivity analyses, with minimal inconsistencies between direct and indirect results.
Discussion: Manual therapy interventions should be considered an effective strategy for pain and PPT in patients with MTPs. The results suggest that among the different manual therapy modalities, combined and afferent reduction techniques are the most effective for pain and PPT, respectively.
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