Delayed onset muscular soreness (DOMS) is an ailment that regularly affects the physically active population (13). Delayed onset muscular soreness is characterized as pain and stiffness incurred by muscles after unaccustomed or intense exercise and may be the result of minute damage in the contractile components of muscle tissue with subsequent release of certain biochemical agents that mark muscle cell damage (36,54). Other symptoms include loss of muscle strength, decreased range of motion (ROM), swelling, and decreased proprioception (3,19,35,39). The discomfort of DOMS peaks at approximately 48 hours and subsides within 3 to 10 days postexercise (12,53).
Delayed onset muscular soreness is a subclinical injury that could serve as a precursor to ancillary complications. Working through the pain, as is common in highly competitive athletes, may compromise weakened tissue by forcing compensation during activity, particularly if a reduction in the joint ROM interferes with timing and contractual sequencing (12). Thus, timely reduction of DOMS may be in the best interest of the participant, both to more rapidly return to competition and to minimize the risk of injury. Delayed onset muscular soreness is frequently assessed through measures of flexibility and power (55,61), both of which may be negatively affected by DOMS (3,6,40,52,60).
Therapeutic modalities such as massage, cold or warm whirlpools, contrast baths, ultrasound, and superficial heat are often used to alleviate the symptoms of DOMS (13,33,61). Recently, an interest in vibration has surfaced. For instance, research suggests that vibration exercise causes acute physiological effects as well as adaptive and training effects including elongation of musculature (14), hormonal changes (9,17,34), and increases in the stretch reflex (51,56), electromyographic activity (1,10,50), muscular energy metabolism (42,43), intramuscular temperature (16), muscle power (8,47), joint stability (38), flexibility (15,31), and bone strength (25,58). Localized vibration attenuates DOMS in the tibialis anterior, quadriceps, hamstrings, and gastrocnemius (5,7). Whole-body vibration (WBV) applied before eccentric training reduces DOMS in untrained individuals (2), and WBV combined with stretching attenuates DOMS more so than stretching alone (41).
The primary purpose of this study was to determine the effects of WBV on DOMS through Visual Analog Scale (VAS) measures of perceived pain/soreness. The secondary purpose of the study was to assess the effect of WBV on flexibility and explosive power after induced DOMS.
Experimental Approach to the Problem
Visual Analog Scale scores for DOMS tend to show increases within the first 48 hours with the following days showing decreases in pain ratings. During this time of decreased pain rating, increased baseline scores of flexibility and power are also reported. To test the effectiveness of WBV on DOMS, this study consisted of experimental procedures on 5 consecutive days with 24 hours separating each experimental procedure. A repeated-measures design with 2 groups (WBV and control) was used to determine the effects of WBV on DOMS, flexibility, and power.
After Institutional Review Board approval, volunteers were solicited from a university in the south-central United States for participation in this 5-day data collection. Volunteers (N = 20) were healthy, recreationally active (having participated in physical activities about 3 times a week for the last year), college-aged men (n = 10) and women (n = 10) (20.85 ± 1.81 years; 171.19 ± 10.19 cm; 79.16 ± 18.58 kg). Volunteers first were given a copy of an institutional review board–approved consent to participate form that was reviewed with them by the primary investigator before signing for consent. They were then asked to complete a health history questionnaire to determine participation eligibility. Potential participants were excluded if (a) they reported any injury to the upper or lower extremity, the back, or the abdominals within the last 6 months that held them from normal activities of daily living; (b) they reported any surgical procedure within the last 12 months that held them from normal activities of daily living for more than 1 month; or (c) they reported any neurological issues. Twenty qualifying participants were subsequently randomly assigned to either the experimental group or the control group and assigned a report time for the next 5 days with each session falling 24 hours (±1 hour) after the preceding session. Participants were asked to wear comfortable clothing and the same shoes for every session. Participants were instructed to continue normal activities of daily living during the 5 days of data collection. They were, however, asked to refrain from any other treatments for DOMS, including exercise, medication, ice, stretching, therapeutic modalities, and so on. No diet logs, hydration measures, or sleep logs were collected in this study.
Before inducing DOMS, the participants were asked to subjectively rate hamstring pain and were then measured for power and hamstring and lower back flexibility. Visual Analog Scales consisting of 100-mm lines with polar extremes (23,29,32,37) were used to assess hamstring pain, an Acuflex I (Novel Products; Inc., Rockton, IL, USA) was used to measure sit-and-reach flexibility, and power was measured by the vertical jump using a Vertec instrument (Vertec Sports Imports, Hilliard, OH, USA). The best of 3 trials was recorded for sit-and-reach and vertical jump measures (6). Treatment to induce DOMS consisted of 3 sets of 10 lunges while holding dumbbells in each hand. The weight of the dumbbells was determined for each individual based on 12–18% of total body weight (TBW). Women used dumbbells weighing approximately 12% and men 18% TBW. After inducing DOMS, all subjects immediately completed the VAS for pain, were assessed for sit-and-reach scores, and for vertical jump height. Subsequently, participants assigned to the treatment group stood on a WBV oscillating platform Vibra Trim 100 (Vibra Trim; LLC, Gig Harbor, WA, USA) for 10 minutes. Whole-body vibration was set on a predetermined program that sequentially increased the vibrations until the last minute (20 Hz for 1 minute, 27.5 Hz for 2 minutes, 35 Hz for 2 minutes, 45 Hz for 4 minutes, and 35 Hz for 1 minute). Participants in the control group walked for 10 minutes on a Woodway Desmo (Woodway, Waukesha, WI, USA) treadmill at 0% grade between 3.5 and 3.7 mph based on personal comfort.
After the initial session, participants reported for 4 additional data collection sessions at the same time of day over the span of 4 days. Upon arrival to each data collection session, all participants completed a VAS, the sit-and-reach, and the vertical jump assessments. The participants assigned to the treatment group then spent 10 minutes on WBV machines and the control group walked for 10 minutes on the treadmill. After 10 minutes of WBV or walking, scores on VAS, the sit-and-reach test, and vertical jump were again recorded.
Statistical analyses were conducted using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (PASW 18.0 for Windows; SPSS, Inc., Chicago, IL, USA). Repeated-measures analysis of variance with Newman-Keuls post hoc analyses were used to compare the dependent variables. An a priori alpha level of 0.05 was set to reflect significant mean differences. Cohen's d was conducted to determine effect size for this study.
For both groups, DOMS appeared within 24 hours and steadily increased to the most severe point at the 48-hour assessment after the inducement. Delayed onset muscular soreness slowly receded for the next 3 days of assessment. For both groups, WBV and walking reduced the degree of DOMS, with WBV reducing DOMS by an average of 27.3% and walking by an average of 16.1% over the 5 days. At the most severe DOMS observation (48 hours), WBV and walking reduced DOMS by 25.1 and 23.5%, respectively.
For the WBV group, analysis of pretest and posttest DOMS yielded significant differences (p < 0.05) between baseline and pretest and posttest 1, pretest and posttest 2, pretest and posttest 3, and pretest 4, but not for day 4 posttest or day 5 pretest and posttest (Figure 1). For the walking group, analysis of pretest and posttest DOMS yielded significant differences between baseline and pretest and posttest 1, pretest and posttest 2, and pretest and posttest 3, but not for pretest and posttest 4 and 5 (Figure 2). These results suggest that both groups responded similarly to the DOMS induction and that DOMS dissipated at approximately the same rate for both groups. No significant (p > 0.05) within-group DOMS differences were found for either the WBV or walking group, and no significant between-group differences were found when comparing pretest and posttest assessments (Figure 3). Furthermore, there were no statistical differences (p = 0.31) between men and women in the degree of subjective DOMS over time or treatment. Analysis yielded no significant (p > 0.05) within- or between-group differences in ROM or vertical jump.
Cohen's d calculations (Table 1) for day 1 pretest measures detected differences between means of 0.56 and for day 1 posttest measures differences between means were detected at −0.07. Day 2 pretest measures showed differences between means of 0.21, whereas day 2 posttest measures yielded differences between means of 0.15. Day 3 pretest and posttest measures identified differences between means of 0.81 and 0.65, respectively.
The results of this study indicate that WBV is equally effective as light exercise in reducing the severity of DOMS. Walking contributes to continuous muscular contractions that seem to reduce the perception of soreness by the mechanisms suggested by Hough (27), such as the removal of waste products by the increase in blood flow accompanied by an increased release of endorphins. Similar increases in blood flow were observed in WBV by Herrero et al. (26) who found that vibration resulted in increased blood flow and muscle activation similar to that which occurs during walking. Another study found that WBV yielded similar metabolic responses as to that of traditional warm exercises (30). Previous studies regarding the use of exercise to reduce the degree of DOMS have yielded mixed results. Studies using exercise directly after (24,59) and 1 day (18) after inducing DOMS found no significant differences in soreness after 24, 48, or 72 hours when compared with a control group. In contrast, Rodenburg et al. (46) found significant reductions in soreness as a result, in part, of exercise. One suggestion is that the contrast in findings is because of the differences in protocols, such as type of exercise, timing of exercise, and degree of effort (24).
No significant differences were found in DOMS between genders. This supports previous literature in which no apparent differences in DOMS between genders were present, suggesting that women and men both experience similar soreness and similar strength loss (21). In an early review, Armstrong (3) posited that exercise is one of the most effective strategies for alleviating DOMS. However, pain relief is temporary and rapidly resumes after the termination of the activity (54). Carlsson and Pellettieri (11) suggest that neurological inhibition of pain may be responsible for the reduced soreness because of input from low threshold, afferent fibers located in proprioceptors (groups Ia, Ib, and II fiber), which may obstruct pain sensation carried by group III and IV fibers (11).
With respect to power, the current study found no significant between-group differences, which may be attributed to the previously induced DOMS. The effect of WBV on power has produced mixed results. Studies report no differences between WBV and a control group in power production (4,13). However, other studies demonstrate that WBV amplifies power output (53,54). These contradictions most likely are the result of dissimilar research protocols. It is possible that the lack of significant ROM differences between the WBV and control group in the present study was because of the presence of DOMS. Researchers generally agree that vibration will result in greater flexibility (28,32,51). Soreness in the muscle will prevent a comfortable stretch, and pain upon stretching most likely prohibits participants from fully complying with the activity because any change in pain rating may influence athletic participation and athletic performance (6,48,49).
The current study found no gender differences in DOMS among groups over time. Gender differences in reporting pain have been documented. For example, men tend to report less pain than women, which may be due in part to gender stereotypes commonly accepted by participants in research (44,45). More recently, some authors suggest that both men and women hold a “macho” image of themselves with regard to the willingness to report pain (22). Ge et al. (22) found that pain-induced changes in motor control strategies differ in men and women.
According to the literature, DOMS impairs neuromuscular function and decreases strength, force, and proprioception (48,49). Farrar et al. (20) recommend reporting the clinical relevance of pain decrease in terms of percent change and further suggest that pain reduction rates of 30% should be identified as clinically important. At the height of DOMS (48 hours), the WBV and treatment groups showed a pain reduction of 33.5 and 28.1% from pretest to posttests, respectively. This study revealed trends that support WBV as a treatment for DOMS equal, but not superior, to submaximal activity. Those individuals (athletic trainers, sport coaches, strength coaches, etc.) involved with treating DOMS should explore the possibility of including WBV as a recovery option. Active exercise is effective; however, many times athletes may opt to forego an active exercise session at the end of a workout session because of the continued work perception. Whole-body vibration has is just as effective as active exercise in decreasing the negative effects of DOMS, and it may be more appealing to athletes as a new method of treatment.
The authors wish to thank the subjects for their participation.
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