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Phys Ther Sport. 2012 Aug;13(3):180-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ptsp.2011.11.003. Epub 2011 Dec 29.

The effect of heat applied with stretch to increase range of motion: a systematic review.

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Unit of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Sciences, Graduate School of Health Sciences, Nagasaki University, 1-7-1 Sakamoto, Nagasaki-city, Nagasaki 852-8520, Japan.


Application of heat to muscle is commonly advocated to enhance the efficacy of stretching. However, the effect of this combined therapy using different methods of heating, applied to different muscles, and after one or multiple treatments, is not known. To perform a systematic review to address the question: Does stretching augmented by heat application result in greater gains in range of motion (ROM) compared to stretch alone? The following databases were searched for original articles that evaluated our question: MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, SPORTDiscus and PEDro databases. After title and abstract screening followed by full-text screening, the quality of included articles was assessed and their data was abstracted. Screening, data abstraction and quality assessment was performed and consensus was achieved by two reviewers. Range of motion (ROM) data were synthesized by meta-analyses for overall effect and subgroup analysis according to muscle group, method of heat application, single or multiple treatments, and reported tightness of muscle. Twelve studies were included and reported the effects of stretch with or without heat on ROM of 352 participants. Heat applications included ultrasound, shortwave diathermy and hot packs. Meta-analyses and subgroup analyses demonstrated greater increases in ROM after heat and stretch (H + S) than heat alone. Subgroup analysis of muscle groups and the method of heat application showed some trends, but no significant differences. Multiple treatments (more so than single treatments) showed consistent treatment effects of H + S versus stretch alone amongst subgroups. Muscles described as tight did not show a greater treatment effect in response to H + S compared to muscles not reported as tight. Heating provides an added benefit on stretch related gains of ROM in healthy people.

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