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J Athl Train. 1992; 27(3): 200, 202, 204-206.
PMCID: PMC1317247

Effect of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, Cold, and a Combination Treatment on Pain, Decreased Range of Motion, and Strength Loss Associated with Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

Craig R. Denegar, PhD, ATC and David H. Perrin, PhD, ATC


Athletic trainers have a variety of therapeutic agents at their disposal to treat musculoskeletal pain, but little objective evidence exists of the efficacy of the modalities they use. In this study, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) served as a model for musculoskeletal injury in order to: (1) compare the changes in perceived pain, elbow extension range of motion, and strength loss in subjects experiencing DOMS in the elbow flexor muscle group following a single treatment with either transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), cold, a combination of TENS and cold, sham TENS, or 20 minutes of rest; (2) compare the effects of combining static stretching with these treatments; and (3) determine if decreased pain is accompanied by a restoration of strength. DOMS was induced in the non-dominant elbow flexor muscle group in 40 females (age = 22.0 ± 4.3 yr) with repeated eccentric contractions. Forty-eight hours following exercise, all subjects presented with pain, decreased elbow extension range of motion, and decreased strength consistent with DOMS. Subjects were randomly assigned to 20-minute treatments followed by static stretching. Cold, TENS, and the combined treatment resulted in significant decreases in perceived pain. Treatments with cold resulted in a significant increase in elbow extension range of motion. Static stretching also significantly reduced perceived pain. Only small, nonsignificant changes in muscle strength were observed following treatment or stretching, regardless of the treatment group. These results suggest that the muscle weakness associated with DOMS is not the result of inhibition caused by pain. The results suggest that these modalities are effective in treating the pain and muscle spasm associated with DOMS, and that decreased pain may not be an accurate indicator of the recovery of muscle strength.

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Selected References

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Articles from Journal of Athletic Training are provided here courtesy of National Athletic Trainers Association