There’s nothing worse than not being able to walk 3 days after a big session in the gym. You feel ok immediately and maybe the day after but come day two and you’re contemplating life decisions.
Delayed onset muscle soreness known more popularly as DOMS, is a sore, aching, painful feeling in the muscles after unfamiliar and unaccustomed intense exercise. Never fear, it’s nothing to be worried about as it is a natural reaction within your body.
The good news is that your body gets used to increased activity quickly, so DOMS should not become something that always happens and should lessen over time. But what can you do to help reduce this pain and go about your day? Let’s find out.
The science of DOMS
Technically speaking, DOMS is (mainly) caused by a type 1 muscle strain – not as serious as it sounds – predominantly as a result of unaccustomed exercise. As you may have experienced, DOMS can range from slight muscle discomfort to severe pain that limits range of motion. Generally, muscle soreness becomes noticeable around 8 hours post-workout and peaks usually 48-72 hours later, although this can vary person to person.
Recovery for DOMS
We all know we should warm-up properly. This is probably one of the only times you’ll hear it doesn’t help. While it may prepare you for exercise (and help to reduce injury), neither warming up nor stretching before exercise has been shown to reduce or prevent DOMS.
One of the best ways to decrease the risk of DOMS is to slowly progress into a new exercise program.
Massage/ foam rolling
The most common recovery is foam rolling, however this has only been proven to improve DOMS in some studies.
Another common method is massage from a therapist. Some researchers have shown decreases in pain associated with DOMS after a massage. However, massage has no effect on muscle metabolites such as glycogen or lactate.
Keep up those liquids
A lack of electrolytes contributes to muscle soreness so make sure you are staying hydrated throughout your workout. Muscles are working harder and so they demand more oxygen and therefore need more blood pumping around – around 82% of your blood volume actually consists of water, so hydration is much more important and effective than simply quenching your thirst!
The British Journal of Sports Medicine evaluated the effects of compression garments on recovery following intense exercise, with findings indicating compression garments are effective in enhancing recovery from muscle damage.
Compression garments have been shown to have a positive on performance and recovery, improving blood flow and decreasing muscle soreness post exercise.
Magnesium is another way to help ease DOMS. Magnesium is often taken by athletes to relax muscles and assist with cramping, it can also ease muscle soreness and improve recovery time.
It can be taken in a variety of forms: tablets, spray/cream that is applied directly to the sore muscles or even an Epsom salt bath is a great way to help with the aches.
Cold therapy such as ice baths acts as an anti-inflammatory and can help with reducing muscle pain. We discuss ice baths further in our article here.
Sauna or Steam Room
Using the sauna (or steam room, hot tub, hot shower etc.) increases blood flow to muscles. Increased blood flow brings oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, allowing them to heal quicker. Heat causes the release of endorphins which reduce feelings of pain and have anti-inflammatory effects.
The increased blood flow to muscles also remove the by-products of metabolism, like lactic acid, from the muscles. The sauna will reduce lactate accumulation in the blood and muscle.
Active recovery performing, restorative movements can be one of the most effective tools you can use to dramatically decrease the amount of muscle soreness you experience.
Active recovery can be painful to start, but after a few minutes, when the blood gets flowing and the muscles get warmed up, it will usually start to feel better. Slow, gentle stretching of the area will also relieve that tight feeling and help to reduce the pain.
Overdoing yourself at the gym or during your workout can cause extreme soreness, burnout and even injury. Allow ample time for your muscles to fully recover before seriously training them again. Symptoms should reduce within 24-72 hours. If symptoms do persist more than 48-72 hours, the pain is affecting the joints and not just the muscles or the pain came on during exercise, see your healthcare professional for further advice and treatment.
At the end of the day, DOMS is a positive reaction and is an alert from the body to ease off the hard training until you feel comfortable again. Ignoring that message from your body can cause more harm than good. Regularly over-training yourself eventually leads to diminishing returns, plateau, and injury – so make sure you’re listening to your body and what it’s communicating to you in clear, easy-to-understand ways.
It’s important to remember that recovery is just as important as the exercise itself. Don’t let DOMS deter you. If you’re training safe, eating well and staying hydrated, you should start seeing progress.