Acupuncture for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

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Acupuncture for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

“Acupuncture is one of the most popular alternative methods applied in Western medical practice. In addition to its curative properties in various chronic conditions, demonstrated by the number of clinical trials, acupuncture has been recently applied as an enhancer of sports performance.

“Reviewed studies of published literature on the use of acupuncture in resistance and endurance sports activities demonstrated the association of traditional acupuncture protocol with increase of muscular strength and power.”

Ahmedov, S. (2010)

How can acupuncture help?


DOMS is classified as a type 1 muscle strain caused by increased tension on the muscles leading to mechanical disruption of muscle fibres and connective tissue which results in mild transient inflammation (Hübscher et al. 2008, p. 1011). As acupuncture is known for its efficacy when it comes to treating musculoskeletal conditions and inflammatory disorders (Hübscher et al. 2008, p. 1012), and similar mechanisms are at play when acupuncture is used to reduce the severity and duration of DOMS.

While specific results vary across different research sources, such as improvements in strength and performance rates, what is consistent is that acupuncture has been shown to reduce the level of perceived pain resulting from DOMS in the hours and days following exercise (Cardoso et al. 2016, p. 85; Hübscher et al. 2008, p. 1011; Itoh et al. 2008).

 More info about DOMS …


Whether you are brand new to exercise or a seasoned athlete in your field, you will most likely have experience delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. DOMS occurs as a result of increased load on a muscle group either at the start of a sporting season or when a new form of exercise is introduced to the body (Cheung et al. 2003). Symptoms vary from mild discomfort to incapacitating pain depending on the individual, the type of exercise, and the volume and frequency of training (Nelson 2013, p. 475).While soreness tends to peak around the 48 hour mark after a session, symptoms of DOMS can take up to 10 days to completely resolve, and peak strength output is usually affected for 24 – 48 hours (Nelson 2013, p. 475).

DOMS is closely associated with eccentric muscles contractions (concentric contractions – lifting the bar up/ eccentric contractions – putting the bar back down), as eccentric contractions induce a greater frequency and severity of micro-injury to the muscle fibres than other types of muscle actions (Cheung et al. 2003). Although DOMS itself is not considered to be a major threat to overall health, it can impact athletic performance by limiting joint range or motion, reducing shock attenuation (the ability for the body to absorb shock e.g. during running) and peak torque (Cheung et al. 2003).

Continued intense exercise of the same area of the body during the DOMS recovery period can also be potentially harmful. As muscle groups affected by DOMS are below optimum performance during this time (Vila-Chã C, 2012), the body’s natural capacity to compensate with nearby anatomy may result in unaccustomed stress on muscles, ligaments and tendons, and may increase the risk of further injury (Cheung et al. 2003). Those who are required to train on a daily basis are encouraged to reduce the intensity of the exercise for 1 – 2 days following intense DOMS-inducing exercise, or alternate muscle groups to allow recovery for that particular area (Cheung et al. 2003).

“Acupuncture is used to reduce inflammation and decrease pain in delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) … Significant differences in visual analog scores for pain were found between the control group and tender point group immediately after treatment and three days after exercise …”

“A statistically significant difference was found only between the tender point acupuncture and control groups, immediately and three days after treatment. The results suggest that tender point acupuncture treatment may be effective for DOMS.”

Itoh et al. (2008)

  • Ahmedov, S 2010, Ergogenic effect of acupuncture in sport and exercise: a brief reviewJ Strength Cond Res, 24(5), pp. 1421-7, Source, viewed 9 January 2017
  • Cardoso, R., Lumini-Oliveira, J., Santos, M. J., Ramos, B. Machado, J. & Greten, H. J. (2016). Effect of Acupuncture on delayed onset muscle soreness: series of case studies. Experimental Pathology and Health Sciences 2016;8 (2): pp. 85-92. Source, viewed 10 June 2018
  • Cheung, K., Hume, P. & Maxwell, L. (2003). Delayed onset muscle soreness: treatment strategies and performance factors. Sports Medicine 33 (2), 145e164. Source, viewed 20 June 2018
  • Hübscher, M. Vogt, L. Bernhörster, M. Rosenhagen, A. & Banzer, W. (2008). Effects of Acupuncture on Symptoms and Muscle Function in Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness. THE JOURNAL OF ALTERNATIVE AND COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE. 14: 8. pp. 1011–1016. Source, viewed 20 June 2018
  • Itoh, K, Ochi, H & Kitakoji, H 2008, Effects of tender point acupuncture on delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) – a pragmatic trial, Chinese Medicine, Vol. 3 No. 14, Source, viewed 9 January 2019
  • Nelson, N. (2013). Delayed onset muscle soreness: Is massage effective? Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies (2013) 17, 475 – 482. Source, viewed 20 June 2018
  • Vila-Chã, C., Hassanlouei, H., Farina, D. & Falla, D. (2012). Eccentric exercise and delayed onset muscle soreness of the quadriceps induce adjustments in agonist-antagonist activity, which are dependent on the motor task. Experimental Brain Research 216 (3), 385e395. Source, viewed 20 June 2018

About the Author:

Chris Fehres lives in Brisbane and holds a Bachelor of Health Science majoring in acupuncture. Chris completed his degree in 2015 at Endeavour College of Natural Health where he graduated with distinction and was awarded the medal of academic excellence for highest achievement Australia-wide for acupuncture. He currently holds positions at Endeavour College as a contract tutor for higher education and alumni representative for the Course Advisory Committees for both the Acupuncture and Biosciences departments, as well as having been chosen as the focus for their 2017 - 18 Graduate Stories write up.

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