July 5, 2012 — Researchers at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. Johns, Canada completed a study1 on the effectiveness of two types of cold therapy — ice and Biofreeze Pain Reliever, a menthol-based topical analgesic — on delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). The study concluded that Biofreeze Pain Reliever reduced DOMS-induced symptoms of pain by a significant 63 percent more than ice.
DOMS, often observed in athletes, is a common consequence of unaccustomed exercise or overtraining especially with the inclusion of extensive eccentric contractions. The presence of DOMS inhibits muscle activity or motor performance for up to several days following the initiating event. One of the major symptoms of DOMS is pain, which can cause inhibition of force production of the involved muscle. Cold therapy is often applied to reduce the pain of DOMS, which is thought to result from damage to muscle cells and subsequent inflammation. And although ice is often used to alleviate DOMS-pain, studies on its effectiveness show mixed results.
Menthol, the active ingredient in Biofreeze Pain Reliever, 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 purpose of this study was to compare applications of Biofreeze with ice on pain, maximum voluntary contraction and evoked titanic force during DOMS,” stated David, G, Behm, PhD, associate dean for graduate studies and research, School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, Memorial University of Newfoundland. “It was hypothesized that Biofreeze would be more effective than ice in alleviating DOMS-related symptoms and thus improve strength output.”
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 most important results of this study suggest that Biofreeze was more effective than ice for relieving soreness associated with DOMS while at rest or during muscle contractions,” continued Dr. Behm. “Furthermore, the greater 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. However, more research is needed in patient populations receiving electrical muscle stimulation.”
In summary, Biofreeze Pain Reliever 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.
Source: Performance Health, biofreeze.com
1 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.