Investigation of the Sympathetic Regulation in Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: Results of an RCT.

Fleckenstein, Johannes; Neuberger, Elmo W I; Bormuth, Philipp; Comes, Fabio; Schneider, Angelika; Banzer, Winfried; Fischer, Lorenz; Simon, Perikles (2021). Investigation of the Sympathetic Regulation in Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: Results of an RCT. Frontiers in physiology, 12, p. 697335. Frontiers Research Foundation 10.3389/fphys.2021.697335

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Sports-related pain and injury is directly linked to tissue inflammation, thus involving the autonomic nervous system (ANS). In the present experimental study, we disable the sympathetic part of the ANS by applying a stellate ganglion block (SGB) in an experimental model of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) of the biceps muscle. We included 45 healthy participants (female 11, male 34, age 24.16 ± 6.67 years [range 18-53], BMI 23.22 ± 2.09 kg/m2) who were equally randomized to receive either (i) an SGB prior to exercise-induced DOMS (preventive), (ii) sham intervention in addition to DOMS (control/sham), or (iii) SGB after the induction of DOMS (rehabilitative). The aim of the study was to determine whether and to what extent sympathetically maintained pain (SMP) is involved in DOMS processing. Focusing on the muscular area with the greatest eccentric load (biceps distal fifth), a significant time × group interaction on the pressure pain threshold was observed between preventive SGB and sham (p = 0.034). There was a significant effect on pain at motion (p = 0.048), with post hoc statistical difference at 48 h (preventive SGB Δ1.09 ± 0.82 cm VAS vs. sham Δ2.05 ± 1.51 cm VAS; p = 0.04). DOMS mediated an increase in venous cfDNA -as a potential molecular/inflammatory marker of DOMS- within the first 24 h after eccentric exercise (time effect p = 0.018), with a peak at 20 and 60 min. After 60 min, cfDNA levels were significantly decreased comparing preventive SGB to sham (unpaired t-test p = 0.008). At both times, 20 and 60 min, cfDNA significantly correlated with observed changes in PPT. The 20-min increase was more sensitive, as it tended toward significance at 48 h (r = 0.44; p = 0.1) and predicted the early decrease of PPT following preventive stellate blocks at 24 h (r = 0.53; p = 0.04). Our study reveals the broad impact of the ANS on DOMS and exercise-induced pain. For the first time, we have obtained insights into the sympathetic regulation of pain and inflammation following exercise overload. As this study is of a translational pilot character, further research is encouraged to confirm and specify our observations.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


04 Faculty of Medicine > Medical Education > Institute of Complementary and Integrative Medicine (IKIM)

UniBE Contributor:

Fischer, Lorenz


600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health




Frontiers Research Foundation




Maurice Gisler

Date Deposited:

23 Feb 2022 14:48

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 16:07

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

cell-free DNA – cfDNA neuroinflammation neurophysiology pain therapy sports medicine sympathetic maintained pain vegetative nervous system




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