Thermotherapy for treating rheumatoid arthritis

V Welch, L Brosseau, B Shea, J McGowan, G Wells, P Tugwell
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2000, (4): CD002826

BACKGROUND: Heat and cold therapy are often used as adjuncts in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis by rehabilitation specialists.

OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the effects of heat and cold on objective and subjective measures of disease activity in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

SEARCH STRATEGY: We searched Medline, Embase, PEDro, Current Contents, Sports Discus and CINAHL up to June 2000. The Cochrane Field of Rehabilitation and related therapies and the Cochrane Musculoskeletal Review Group were also contacted for a search of their specialized registers. Handsearching was conducted on all retrieved articles for additional articles.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomized or controlled clinical trials of ice or heat compared to placebo or active interventions in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and case-control and cohort studies were eligible. No language restrictions were applied. Abstracts were accepted.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two independent reviewers identified potential articles from the literature search. These reviewers extracted data using pre-defined extraction forms. Consensus was reached on all data extraction. Quality was assessed by two reviewers using a 5 point scale that measured the quality of randomization, double-blinding and description of withdrawals.

MAIN RESULTS: Three studies (79 subjects) met the inclusion criteria. There was no effect on objective measures of disease activity (including inflammation, pain and x-ray measured joint destruction) of either ice versus control or heat versus control. Patients reported that they preferred heat therapy to no therapy (94% like heat therapy better than no therapy). There was no difference in patient preference for heat or ice. No harmful effects of ice or heat were reported.

REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: Since patients enjoy thermotherapy, and there are no harmful effects, thermotherapy should be recommended as a therapy which can be applied at home as needed to relieve pain. There is no need for further research on the effects of heat or cold for RA.

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