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Dose Response of Isometric Contractions on Pain Perception in Healthy Adults


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: November 2008 - Volume 40 - Issue 11 - p 1880-1889
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31817eeecc
CLINICAL SCIENCES: Clinical Relevant

Introduction: The purpose of the study was to compare pain ratings and thresholds in men and women before and after isometric contractions of varying intensity and duration performed with the elbow flexor muscles.

Methods: Pain perception was assessed, using a pressure device applied to the contralateral finger, before and after the following isometric contractions: 1) three brief maximal voluntary contractions (MVC), 2) 25% MVC sustained until task failure, 3) 25% MVC sustained for 2 min, and 4) 80% MVC sustained until task failure.

Results: High-intensity and long-duration, low-intensity isometric contractions produced an analgesic response. The greatest change in pain threshold and pain ratings, when pressure was applied to the contralateral finger, was after the long-duration, low-intensity contraction sustained until failure. Sex differences were present with women reporting 1) lower pain thresholds and higher pain ratings during quiet rest and 2) higher pain ratings before and after isometric contractions.

Conclusion: These results suggest that activation of high-threshold motor units is involved in exercise-induced analgesia.

Department of Physical Therapy, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI

Address for correspondence: Marie Hoeger Bement, Ph.D., Department of Physical Therapy, Marquette University, P.O. Box 1881, Milwaukee, WI 53201; E-mail:

Submitted for publication February 2008.

Accepted for publication May 2008.

©2008The American College of Sports Medicine