Physical Agent Modalities in Early Osteoarthritis: A Scoping Review, 2021

Topics: osteoarthritis; early osteoarthritis; rehabilitation; physical therapy modalities; physical agents; electric stimulation therapy; pulsed electromagnetic field; extracorporeal shockwave therapy; vibration therapy

Authors: Giulia Letizia Mauro, Dalila Scaturro, Francesca Gimigliano, Marco Paoletta, Sara Liguori, Giuseppe Toro, Giovanni Iolascon and Antimo Moretti


Early osteoarthritis (EOA) still represents a challenge for clinicians. Although there is no consensus on its definition and diagnosis, a prompt therapeutic intervention in the early stages can have a significant impact on function and quality of life. Exercise remains a core treatment for EOA; however, several physical modalities are commonly used in this population. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the role of physical agents in the treatment of EOA. A technical expert panel (TEP) of 8 medical specialists with expertise in physical agent modalities and musculoskeletal conditions performed the review following the PRISMA-ScR (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses Extension for Scoping Reviews) model. The TEP searched for evidence of the following physical modalities in the management of EOA: “Electric Stimulation Therapy”, “Pulsed Electromagnetic field”, “Low-Level Light Therapy”, “Laser Therapy”, “Magnetic Field Therapy”, “Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy”, “Hyperthermia, Induced”, “Cryotherapy”, “Vibration therapy”, “Whole Body Vibration”, “Physical Therapy Modalities”. We found preclinical and clinical data on transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT), low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS), pulsed electromagnetic fields stimulation (PEMF), and whole-body vibration (WBV) for the treatment of knee EOA. We found two clinical studies about TENS and PEMF and six preclinical studies-three about ESWT, one about WBV, one about PEMF, and one about LIPUS. The preclinical studies demonstrated several biological effects on EOA of physical modalities, suggesting potential disease-modifying effects. However, this role should be better investigated in further clinical studies, considering the limited data on the use of these interventions for EOA patients.

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