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Pain-Free Versus Pain-Threshold Rehabilitation Following Acute Hamstring Strain Injury: A Randomized Controlled Trial


Tags: treatment, strain, injury, pain problems, muscle

PainSci notes on Hickey 2019:

This tiny randomized controlled trial for hamstring strain rehab compared two rehab strategies: either waiting until pain is mostly gone, versus waiting until it’s entirely gone. There was no statistically significant difference between how long it took both groups to be cleared to return to play. The pain-threshold group did slightly better by a couple measures. The real story here is not that either works better than the other, but that starting rehab before the pain was entirely gone wasn’t obviously worse.

And it's a really tiny study, so… grain of salt.

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.

STUDY DESIGN: Randomized controlled trial.

BACKGROUND: Conventional guidelines recommend hamstring strain injury (HSI) rehabilitation should only be performed and progressed in complete absence of pain, despite lack of comparison to alternative approaches.

OBJECTIVES: The primary aim of this study was to compare the number of days from acute HSI to return to play (RTP) clearance following a standardised rehabilitation protocol performed within either pain-free or pain-threshold limits. The secondary aims were to compare isometric knee flexor strength, biceps femoris long head (BFlh) fascicle length, fear of movement and re-injury during a six-month follow-up between pain-free and pain-threshold groups.

METHODS: Forty-three men with acute HSIs were randomly allocated to either a pain-free (n=22) or pain-threshold (n=21) rehabilitation group. Days from HSI to RTP clearance, isometric knee flexor strength, BFlh fascicle length, fear of movement and re-injuries within six-month follow-up were reported.

RESULTS: The median time from HSI to RTP clearance was 15 days (95% CI = 13 to 17) in the pain-free group and 17 days (95% CI = 11 to 24) in the pain-threshold group, which was not significantly different (p = 0.37). Recovery of isometric knee flexor strength at 90/90 degrees of hip/knee flexion was greater in the pain-threshold group at RTP clearance by 15% (95% CI = 1 to 28) and by 15% (95% CI = 1 to 29) at two-month follow-up. BFlh fascicles were 0.91cm (95% CI = 0.34 to 1.48) longer at two-month follow-up in the pain-threshold group. Two re-injuries occurred in both the pain-free and pain-threshold group during six-month follow-up.

CONCLUSION: Pain-threshold rehabilitation did not accelerate RTP clearance but did result in greater recovery of isometric knee flexor strength and better maintenance of BFlh fascicle length improvements compared to pain-free rehabilitation.

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