Recreational athletes often suffer from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which is defined as muscle pain that begins 1 to 2 days after unaccustomed exercise or exercise involving eccentric (negative) muscle contractions. Muscle pain can also reduce strength and limit range of motion. DOMS is thought to result from damage to muscle cells and subsequent inflammation; therefore, cold therapy is often applied to reduce the pain of DOMS.
Researchers at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. Johns, Canada, wanted to compare 2 types of cold therapy on DOMS: Ice packs and Biofreeze® topical analgesic. They published their results in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy.
Biofreeze® topical analgesic contains the active ingredient, menthol, which is considered to be a “counter-irritant.” The exact mechanism of menthol’s pain relief is not clear, but it’s believed that menthol stimulates temperature receptors in the skin that are associated with an analgesic (pain-relieving) effect. Previous researchers have shown that Biofreeze reduces blood flow and pain, similar to ice (Olive et al. 2010, Bishop et al. 2011).
The researchers at Memorial University induced DOMS in the biceps of 16 healthy subjects with eccentric exercise. Two days later, the subjects randomly received either Biofreeze topical analgesic or an ice pack to the affected muscle; their pain and strength levels were measured 20 minutes after application. The researchers found that Biofreeze reduced DOMS significantly more than ice by 63%. In addition, Biofreeze allowed greater evoked (tetanic) muscle contractions in the sore muscle compared to ice.
The researchers concluded that Biofreeze is more effective than ice “for decreasing DOMS-induced symptoms of pain and increasing evoked tetanic force.” Furthermore, they stated “the greatest tetanic forces with the menthol analgesic may suggest that more intense or aggressive muscle stimulation therapy during rehabilitation might be possible with such a therapeutic agent.” More research is needed in patient populations receiving electrical muscle stimulation.
In summary, Biofreeze topical analgesic is more effective at reducing the symptoms of DOMS compared to ice, and results in significantly more (>100%) ability of subjects to tolerate electrical stimulation of their muscle.
REFERENCE: Johar P, Grover V, Topp R, Behm DG. A comparison of topical menthol to ice on pain, evoked tetanic and voluntary force during delayed onset muscle soreness. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2012 Jun;7(3):314-22.
Disclosure: Thera-Band Academy supported this study