Study Shows Benefit of Low-Level Heat for Treating Wrist Pain

Nov. 18, 2004
A new research study published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation showed significant benefits of continuous low-level heat therapy for short term relief of wrist pain caused by common conditions such as osteoarthritis, tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.

In all treated patients in the study, researchers noted significant benefits of heat therapy on multiple symptoms of wrist pain.

"Our study demonstrated that low-level heat wrap therapy reduced pain by 46 percent in patients with wrist pain caused by common and well-studied conditions such as sprains, strains, tendonitis osteoarthritis and other common forms of wrist pain due to occupational activities," said Susan Michlovitz, PT, Ph.D. CHT, the study's lead author, and a professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at Temple University in Philadelphia.

In addition to measuring the impact of low-level heat wrap therapy on wrist pain, the study also evaluated changes in joint stiffness and grip strength. Treated patients reported a significantly greater increase in grip strength, while significantly greater reduction in joint stiffness was only observed among the patients whose symptoms were consistent with wrist pain from occupational activities.

The study evaluated 94 patients at two community-based clinical research centers. Of the 94 subjects, 57 had wrist pain associated with a sprain or strain injury, 24 had wrist pain associated with occupational activities and 13 had wrist pain associated with osteoarthritis. Participants were given one of four treatments: a ThermaCare heat wrap produced by the Procter & Gamble Co.; an oral placebo; an oral analgesic; or an unheated wrap. Data were recorded over three consecutive days of treatment and two days of follow up. "The positive response observed in wrist pain from occupational activities could be explained by the incremental abilities of heat to increase blood flow and improve nerve conduction velocity, which may help reduce inflammation in the area and reduce symptom severity," added Michlovitz.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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