The effect of soft tissue release on delayed onset muscle soreness

The effect of soft tissue release on delayed onset muscle soreness: A pilot study

Dominic Micklewright, Department of Biological Sciences, The University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, Essex CO4 3SQ, UK


To examine soft tissue release (STR) as an intervention for delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Soft tissue release (STR) has been developed (Sanderson, 2002) that involves applying deep pressure to a muscle while simultaneously performing a controlled muscle lengthening by moving the corresponding joint either passively or actively. Unlike many other massage techniques, STR provides a method of manipulating deep tissues throughout the full joint range of motion (Sanderson, 2002). Since the signs and symptoms of exercise induced muscle damage are often more severe towards the limits of joint range of motion, it is conceivable that such signs and symptoms could be targeted more precisely by using STR rather than other types of massage.


A mixed-subjects experimental design was used. Participants performed 4 × 20 eccentric elbow extensions at 80% of 1RM. Participants received either STR (50%) or no treatment (50%). DOMS measurements were taken before the elbow extensions and at 0, 24, and 48 h afterwards.


The study was conducted at the University of Essex exercise physiology laboratory.


Twenty male participants, unaccustomed to strength conditioning, completed the study.

Main outcome measures

DOMS was evaluated using relaxed joint angle (RJA), active range of motion (AROM), passive range of motion (PROM), and arm girth measurements. Soreness ratings were measured using a 100 mm visual analogue scale (VAS).


In both conditions there were post-DOMS task increases in VAS ratings (p < 0.0001) and arm girths (p < 0.0001), and decreases in RJA (p < 0.0001), AROM (p < 0.0001), and PROM (p < 0.0001). STR group VAS scores were higher immediately (p < 0.01) and 48 h after treatment (p < 0.005). There were no other between-group differences and none of the measurements returned to baseline levels by 48 h.


STR exacerbates the DOMS sensation yet does not seem to improve the rate of recovery during the first 48 h. What our study adds is that deep aggressive manipulation of damaged muscles, characteristic of STR, does not appear to improve recovery from DOMS. Athletes or rehabilitation practitioners who are looking for a quick fix to DOMS are therefore unlikely to find STR any more useful than more gentle massage techniques. Further research is needed to look more closely at the relationship between manual manipulation of injured tissues and the underlying cellular mechanisms of tissue repair. Without this additional information it is unlikely that the ambiguities surrounding the efficacy of massage and other manual manipulation techniques will be resolved.

Physical Therapy in Sport
Volume 10, Issue 1, February 2009, Pages 19-24