Friday, April 25, 2014

Fitness Friday: Dealing with DOMS

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is that dull, achey pain in your muscles you get 24 to 72 hours after a workout. It's painful, and the symptoms can last for seven to ten days. Some people like the onset of DOMS, because it indicates you've worked the muscles to a sufficient intensity.

Unfortunately, when it comes to treating DOMS there's a lack of consensus as to what actually causes it.
Believe it or not, many scientists now believe that lactic acid is actually not involved in DOMS, as it does dissipate within an hour of finishing exercising, which is way before DOMS happens. Although there is a lack of consensus, many put it down to micro-tears within the muscle, that occur during eccentric contractions of the muscle (such as running downhill). That being said, it's also been proven in research that DOMS does not necessarily mean muscle damage. There is also some literature that suggests neurological factors come into play. I'm not really going to deal with those in this article.

All this means that there's also some confusion when it comes to treating it. It's pretty much in consensus though, that training with DOMS isn't conducive to improving performance, and can in fact cause injury. So if your legs are killing from those squats, lay off the leg exercises until you're feeling better.

For this reason, it's essential you schedule rest days into your workout routine.
If you're a beginner and you're weight training, progression in loading and increasing reps should be gradual.

It's widely acknowledged that taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (such as ibuprofen, found in nurofen) can help to alleviate the pain. Note though, this is essentially a mask for the pain, and isn't actually treating the cause of the problem. That can be fine though, when paired with rest.

Getting massages can also help. Although research has been done, it's still unclear as to why it can help alleviate the pain. (There is a lot of scientific literature on this, with a lot of scientific terms) Personally, I find foam rolling my muscles when they're sore (which is a form of myofascial release - similar to what you would get from a sports massage therapist) really helps my muscles feel better.

Usually following DOMS, the muscles contract and become tighter, and stretching can help alleviate this. I find gentle stretching really beneficial. Just remember to never, ever stretch on cold muscles.

So really, the only proven method to alleviating DOMS is waiting it out. Don't risk injury by further training the muscle. You can take ibuprofen minimise the pain and help you get through your day. I personally find foam rolling and gentle stretching (while I'm sore, but also straight after my workout - ALWAYS cool down) really helps my muscles heal faster. There is the theory that it increases blood flow to the area, which assists with healing, but there's not that much scientific evidence to back this up. I also feel that staying active during the DOMS phase makes it go away quicker than if I were to do nothing during that time. Proper nutrition is obviously also important; your muscles can't repair themselves without the proper vitamins and minerals to do so. Basically, DOMS is really complicated, and can really put a dampener on your workout. Just don't let it dissuade you from continuing to be active.

What do you find helps when you have DOMS?

Kent, Michael, The Oxford Dictionary of Sports Science & Medicine Oxford University Press, 3rd ed, 2007.

Nelson, Nicole, 'Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: Is Massage Effective?' Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, vol 17, issue 4, 2013, pp 475-482

Schwarzenegger, Arnold, 'Train through the pain?' Joe Weider's Muscle & Fitness, vol 62, 2001, p 206.

Van Vught, Nicholas, 'Varying Treatments of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness in Athletic Training', California University of Pennsylvania, 2005.

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