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J Pain. 2012 Dec;13(12):1242-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2012.09.014.

Sex differences in exercise-induced muscle pain and muscle damage.

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Department of Physical Therapy, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211-4250, USA.


There is uncertainty about sex differences in exercise-induced muscle pain and muscle damage due to several methodological weaknesses in the literature. This investigation tested the hypothesis that higher levels of exercise-induced muscle pain and muscle damage indicators would be found in women than men when several methodological improvements were executed in the same study. Participants (N = 33; 42% women) with an average age of 23 years (SD = 2.82) consented to participate. After a familiarization session, participants visited the laboratory before and across 4 days after eccentric exercise was completed to induce arm muscle pain and muscle damage. Our primary outcomes were arm pain ratings and pressure pain thresholds. However, we also measured the following indicators of muscle damage: arm girth; resting elbow extension; isometric elbow flexor strength; myoglobin (Mb); tumor necrosis factor (TNFa); interleukin 1beta (IL1b); and total nitric oxide (NO). Temporary induction of muscle damage was indicated by changes in all outcome measures except TNFa and IL1b. In contrast to our hypotheses, women reported moderately lower and less frequent muscle pain than men. Also, women's arm girth and Mb levels increased moderately less than men's, but the differences were not significant. Few large sex differences were detected.


Lower muscle pain among women than men was detected with corresponding, but nonsignificant sex differences in other muscle damage indicators. Methodological advances may have improved alignment of these results with the nonhuman animal findings. This line of research continues to show exceptions to the generalization that women experience greater pain than men.

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