Manual physical therapy and exercise versus electrophysical agents and exercise in the management of plantar heel pain: A multicenter randomized clinical trial

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STUDY DESIGN: Randomized clinical trial. OBJECTIVE: To compare the effectiveness of 2 different conservative management approaches in the treatment of plantar heel pain. BACKGROUND: There is insufficient evidence to establish the optimal physical therapy management strategies for patients with heel pain, and little evidence of long-term effects. METHODS: Patients with a primary report of plantar heel pain underwent a standard evaluation and completed a number of patient self-report questionnaires, including the Lower Extremity Functional Scale (LEFS), the Foot and Ankle Ability Measure (FAAM), and the Numeric Pain Rating Scale (NPRS). Patients were randomly assigned to be treated with either an electrophysical agents and exercise (EPAX) or a manual physical therapy and exercise (MTEX) approach. Outcomes of interest were captured at baseline and at 4-week and 6-month follow-ups. The primary aim (effects of treatment on pain and disability) was examined with a mixed-model analysis of variance (ANOVA). The hypothesis of interest was the 2-way interaction (group by time). RESULTS: Sixty subjects (mean [SD] age, 48.4 [8.7] years) satisfied the eligibility criteria, agreed to participate, and were randomized into the EPAX (n = 30) or MTEX group (n = 30). The overall group-by-time interaction for the ANOVA was statistically significant for the LEFS (P = .002), FAAM (P = .005), and pain (P = .043). Between-group differences favored the MTEX group at both 4-week (difference in LEFS, 13.5; 95% Cl: 6.3,20.8) and 6-month (9.9; 95% Cl: 1.2,18.6) follow-ups. CONCLUSION: The results of this study provide evidence that MTEX is a superior management approach over an EPAX approach in the management of individuals with plantar heel pain at both the short- and long-term follow-ups. Future studies should examine the contribution of the different components of the exercise and manual physical therapy programs.

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