Strenuous physical exercise may cause acute muscle soreness (AMS), which occurs directly after exercise, as well as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which occurs about 24 h after exercise. Studies of acupuncture’s effect on DOMS have had contradictory results, whereas its effect on AMS has not been extensively studied. The main goal of this study was to evaluate acupuncture’s effects on AMS and DOMS and on the prevention of DOMS.
45 volunteers were randomised into a verum acupuncture group, a sham acupuncture group and a control group. After exercise-induced muscle damage was elicited, muscle soreness and pressure pain threshold were assessed at different time points. The outcome assessments were performed before (T1) and 20 min after the first acupuncture treatment (T2); then, 24 h later, they were performed before (T3) and 20 min after the second acupuncture treatment (T4). In the verum and sham acupuncture groups, acupuncture was performed for 2 min, immediately after T1 and T3 assessments, whereas subjects in the control group simply rested for 2 min without treatment. Verum acupuncture was given at ST34, ST36 and LR3, whereas sham acupuncture was given at three nontraditional points.
We found that verum acupuncture can reduce the occurrence of AMS by one-half and DOMS by one-third. We also found specific and nonspecific acupuncture effects in AMS and DOMS.
The uneven induction of muscle damage identified by our study, as shown by heterogeneity in pressure pain threshold values, may have led to the contradictory results in published studies on DOMS.

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