Effect of whirlpool therapy on the signs and symptoms of delayed-onset muscle soreness

J Athl Train. 1998 Jul;33(3):222-8.


Objective: To determine the efficacy of warm whirlpool, cold whirlpool, and contrast therapy in the treatment of delayed-onset muscle soreness.

Design and setting: Subjects performed eccentric contractions of the elbow flexors and received 4 treatments: immediately postexercise and 24, 48, and 72 hours postexercise. Treatments consisted of 24-minute treatments with warm whirlpool, cold whirlpool, contrast therapy, or no treatment.

Subjects: Fifty-six sex-matched volunteers from the University of Pittsburgh.

Measurements: Measurements were taken at 5 assessment times: pre-exercise (0 hours); prior to treatment at 24, 48, and 72 hours postexercise; and at 96 hours postexercise. Dependent variables were degrees of resting elbow flexion, active elbow flexion, and extension; perceived soreness values on a Graphic Pain Rating Scale; and maximal voluntary isometric contraction. A repeated-measures analysis of variance (group by time) and Tukey post hoc analysis were used to determine which treatment groups differed significantly in returning subjects to pre-exercise values.

Results: Cold whirlpool and contrast therapy were found to return subjects to baseline values of resting elbow flexion and perceived soreness significantly more than warm whirlpool or no treatment (P < .01). Additionally, warm whirlpool was found to be more effective than no treatment in the return of resting elbow flexion (P < .01).

Conclusions: These results suggest that cold whirlpool and contrast therapy are more effective than warm whirlpool or no treatment in alleviating delayed-onset muscle soreness in the elbow flexors.