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Medical Science Monitor Basic Research


eISSN: 1643-3750

Effect of heat and cold on tendon flexibility and force to flex the human knee

Jerrold Scott Petrofsky, Michael Laymon, Haneul Lee

Loma Linda, USA

Med Sci Monit 2013; 19:661-667

DOI: 10.12659/MSM.889145

Available online: 2013-08-12

Published: 2013-08-12


Background: It is commonly believed in medicine that using heat will increase the distensability and flexibility of soft tissue. If true, increased flexibility would be a positive factor to reduce injuries in sports. However, cold should have the opposite effect and is often used to treat sports injuries. This study was accomplished to quantify the effect of heat and cold on the force needed to flex the knee and laxness of the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments.
Material and Methods: The present study examined 20 male and female subjects to determine if heat would increase extensibility of the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments of the knee and reduce the force needed to flex the knee. Cold exposure was examined to see if it would have the opposite effect. There were 4 experiments in the series: The first was a room temperature series; the second was a series where cold was applied with an ice pack for 20 minutes; in the third, hydrocollator heat packs were applied for 20 minutes; and in the fourth, ThermaCare heat wraps were applied for 4 hours on the quadriceps and knee. Tendon extensibility was measured with a KT2000. The force for flexing the knee was measured by passive movement being applied (CPM) to the knee through 30° and the force required to move the leg was measured.
Results: The results show that the anterior and posterior cruciate ligament flexibility increased and the force needed to move the knee decreased with heat by about 25% compared to cold application.
Conclusions: Heat is beneficial in increasing muscle and ligament flexibility and may help reduce athletic injuries, but cold treatment may have the opposite effect.

Keywords: Range of Motion, Articular - physiology, Posterior Cruciate Ligament - physiology, Muscles - physiology, Ligaments - physiology, Leg - physiology, Knee - physiology, Hot Temperature, Cold Temperature, Body Weight - physiology, Biomechanical Phenomena - physiology, Anterior Cruciate Ligament - physiology, Adult, Tendons - physiology, Tibia - physiology, young adult