PainSci notes on Malanga 2015:
Although it’s 2015, “most recommendations for the use of heat and cold therapy are based on empirical experience,” not evidence, because the only evidence we have is still “limited.” Malinga, Yang, and Stark review the alleged benefits of heat and cold: pain relief for both, of course, plus ice reduces “blood flow, edema, inflammation, muscle spasm, and metabolic demand,” while heating increases “blood flow, metabolism, and elasticity of connective tissues.” Even these aren’t well-tested, and there are other possibilities that haven’t been tested at all.
Based on a handful of relevant trials, they concluded that “heat-wrap therapy provides short-term reductions in pain and disability in patients with acute low back pain and provides significantly greater pain relief of DOMS than does cold therapy.”
But the main take-home message from this paper is just “much more study needed.”
original abstract †Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.
Nonpharmacological treatment strategies for acute musculoskeletal injury revolve around pain reduction and promotion of healing in order to facilitate a return to normal function and activity. Heat and cold therapy modalities are often used to facilitate this outcome despite prevalent confusion about which modality (heat vs cold) to use and when to use it. Most recommendations for the use of heat and cold therapy are based on empirical experience, with limited evidence to support the efficacy of specific modalities. This literature review provides information for practitioners on the use of heat and cold therapies based on the mechanisms of action, physiological effects, and the medical evidence to support their clinical use. The physiological effects of cold therapy include reductions in pain, blood flow, edema, inflammation, muscle spasm, and metabolic demand. There is limited evidence from randomized clinical trials (RCTs) supporting the use of cold therapy following acute musculoskeletal injury and delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). The physiological effects of heat therapy include pain relief and increases in blood flow, metabolism, and elasticity of connective tissues. There is limited overall evidence to support the use of topical heat in general; however, RCTs have shown that heat-wrap therapy provides short-term reductions in pain and disability in patients with acute low back pain and provides significantly greater pain relief of DOMS than does cold therapy. There remains an ongoing need for more sufficiently powered high-quality RCTs on the effects of cold and heat therapy on recovery from acute musculoskeletal injury and DOMS.
- “Is ice right? Does cryotherapy improve outcome for acute soft tissue injury?,” N C Collins, Emerg Med J, 2008.
This page is part of the PainScience BIBLIOGRAPHY, which contains plain language summaries of thousands of scientific papers & others sources. It’s like a highly specialized blog. A few highlights:
- Relationships Between Sleep Quality and Pain-Related Factors for People with Chronic Low Back Pain: Tests of Reciprocal and Time of Day Effects. Gerhart 2017 Ann Behav Med.
- Modulation in the elastic properties of gastrocnemius muscle heads in individuals with plantar fasciitis and its relationship with pain. Zhou 2020 Sci Rep.
- Association Between Plantar Fasciitis and Isolated Gastrocnemius Tightness. Nakale 2018 Foot Ankle Int.
- No Added Benefit of Combining Dry Needling With Guideline-Based Physical Therapy When Managing Chronic Neck Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Stieven 2020 J Orthop Sports Phys Ther.
- Effectiveness of customised foot orthoses for Achilles tendinopathy: a randomised controlled trial. Munteanu 2015 Br J Sports Med.