Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
Muscle soreness hits, and we’re suddenly regretting those extra reps we did yesterday. Another day passes, and you feel like you’ve been hit by a bus. If you’ve never experienced it, that’s pretty much what Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) feels like.
Much of what you need to know about it is in the name. The day of your workout, you will probably go home feeling energized, and maybe a bit tired, from your workout. Typically, when you experience DOMS, your muscles develop the soreness over time, and unfortunately it tends to get worse before it gets better.
What Causes Muscle Soreness?
Any activity you’re not used to can lead to muscle soreness. For example, you might have pushed your muscles harder than usual, or you might have worked muscles you haven’t used in a while or worked them with a different exercise.
The accumulation of lactic acid is the real culprit, however. The acid will naturally build up with exercise, but according to exercise physiologist Richard Weil, it’s not the only source of your discomfort. The other cause of soreness is muscle swelling.
Weil explains that this swelling comes from the accumulation of white blood cells, prostaglandins, and other important nutrients that flood your muscles to help repair the microscopic tears your muscles endured after the workout. This is why it can take days for the soreness to completely subside.
Treatment Options to Alleviate the Ache
Treatment options are not definitive for DOMS. In fact, there is no existing scientific support that really proves any of the following methods are effective for the healing process. The reason they’re so commonly used and suggested is probably because they help relieve discomfort in the present moment. While there is really nothing that can speed up your recovery, you can help treat the symptoms.
Here are some commonly used remedies for muscle soreness:
An ice pack should generally be applied for about 20 minutes every 2 to 4 hours. However, if it’s getting too cold, skin numbness is a strong sign that it’s time to remove it.
You can even try an ice bath if you need an all over cool. Be careful not to spend too much time in the bath if you’re new to soaking in ice or if you are alone. It can be difficult to guess how your body will react to the cold.
Stretch Lightly After Your Workout
The best time to stretch is when your muscles are already warm. You can cut a significant amount of injury risk out of the equation because your muscles are already supple and ready to move.
Additional benefits include improved flexibility and blood circulation. Stretching also encourages the elimination of lactic acid buildup.
Hydrotherapy is basically when you immerse your muscles, or your whole body, into water to aid recovery.
This can be Cold Water Immersion (CWI), like an ice bath, Hot Water Immersion (HWI), or Contrast Water Therapy (CWT), which is when you move from a hot water soak to an ice water soak and continue to alternate.
A study on The Effect of Hydrotherapy on DOMS found that CWI and CWT were most effective for reducing the discomfort and even the functionality of muscle affected by DOMS.
This one is surprisingly not as obvious as you might think. Many people will push through another workout despite their screaming muscles.
While it can be good to get your sore muscles warm and active, doing so lightly is the key. If you want to work out while you’re sore, it’s probably a good idea to simply work a different muscle group. This way you don’t miss a workout day, and you also don’t strain your body to potential injury.
Who doesn’t enjoy a relaxing massage? Even if your muscles aren’t sore, massages are great for blood circulation and they help muscles warm up and loosen up.
This study on the Effects of Massage on DOMS found that massage successfully reduced symptoms by about 30% and also reduced swelling. However, it had no effects on muscle function.