The Effectiveness and Safety of Heat/Cold Therapy in Adults with Lymphoedema: Systematic Review

Hill, James Edward orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-1430-6927, Whitaker, Justine Claire orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-3885-6245, Sharafi, Negar, Hamer, Oliver orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9631-0032, Chohan, Ambreen orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-0544-7832, Harris, Catherine orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-7763-830X and Clegg, Andrew orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-8938-7819 (2023) The Effectiveness and Safety of Heat/Cold Therapy in Adults with Lymphoedema: Systematic Review. Disability and Rehabilitation . ISSN 0963-8288

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The aim of this review is to assess the efficacy and safety of using heat and cold therapy for adults with lymphoedema.

A multi-database search was undertaken. Only studies which included adults with lymphoedema who were treated with heat or cold therapy reporting any outcome were included. Screening, data extraction, and assessment of bias were undertaken by a single reviewer and verified by a second. Due to the substantial heterogeneity, a descriptive synthesis was undertaken.

Eighteen studies were included. All nine studies which assessed the effects of heat-therapy on changes in limb circumference reported a point estimate indicating some reduction from baseline to end of study. Similarly, the five studies evaluating the use of heat-therapy on limb volume demonstrated a reduction in limb volume from baseline to end-of-study. Only four studies reported adverse events of which all were deemed to be minor. Only two studies explored the effects of cold therapy on lymphoedema.

Tentative evidence suggests heat-therapy may have some benefit in treating lymphoedema with minimal side effects. However, further high-quality randomised controlled trials are required, with a particular focus on moderating factors and assessment of adverse events.

Implications for rehabilitation
This review highlights the potential benefit that heat therapy may have on reducing limb circumference and volume for adults with lymphoedema.

There was no evidence that controlled localised heat therapy was unsafe.

The current evidence-base is at a point where no specific clinical recommendations can be made.

The use of heat therapy should only be applied as part of a methodologically robust study to treat lymphoedema.

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