Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

body building

Having recently suffered from quite possibly the worst case of DOMS I have ever experienced in my whole entire life, I found myself dissecting the internet to find ‘the ultimate cure’.  I tried and tested ALL of them so thought I would put everything in one place and share my experience… FIRSTLY, WHAT IS DOMS? Delayed onset muscle soreness is the pain and stiffness that you can feel in your muscles several hours after new or strenuous exercise.  The ‘agony’ felt is felt most severely 24-72 hours after performing the exercise.  It is thought that it is caused by the lengthening (eccentric) part of the exercise which causes micro-trauma to the muscle fibers.  Following this, the muscle adapts quickly to prevent the muscle from being damaged further, and therefore causing soreness if the exercise is repeated. The pain you feel can mostly be described as dull, aching, tender and stiff.  You will feel this mostly when you stretch, contract or put pressure on the muscle.  You don’t feel it at rest.  Although the duration of the symptoms vary from person to person, they usually increase in intensity during the first 24 hours, peaking from 24-72 hours, then fading gradually up to 7 days after exercise. SECONDLY, CAN YOU PREVENT DOMS? Yes, you can, by gradually increasing the intensity of your workout, the effects of DOMS can be greatly reduced or prevented. Theoretically you can also prevent it by limiting certain exercises to concentric (shortening) and isometric (static) contractions.  Eccentric contractions can be unavoidable in some muscles however, particularly when they are fatigued.  Limiting the length of this contraction during exercise may also be helpful in the prevention of DOMS. Static stretching and warming up the muscles prior to exercise has not been found to be helpful in the prevention of DOMS. MOST IMPORTANTLY! HOW CAN YOU TREAT DOMS? There is no full proof way to immediately get rid of the pain you feel when DOMS has set in, all you can do is alleviate the pain and help treat the symptoms in the short term.  And remember, patience is a virtue and it will go eventually… Anti-inflammatories: Over the counter medications such as Ibuprofen have been specifically shown to alleviate symptoms of muscle soreness.  In my experience, i’m not really one to take tablets to mask pain as I feel your body has this for a reason but I kept to the prescribed dosage for 3 days and I’m not convinced it took more than the slightest edge off the pain.  It certainly didn’t help me sleep any easier. You could try topical ibuprofen gel, applied directly to the area that is affected, this may have a quicker more soothing effect?!? Low intensity cardiovascular exercise: Teaching classes and doing exercise is a fundamental part of my job!  When I have DOMS I do not have the luxury of  giving myself more than a day of rest to help my muscles recover. When I have muscle soreness in my legs, I usually have no option but to teach a Spin class, and as you can imagine, when it is difficult enough to walk, this is the last thing I want to do!!! I have found though, that once my legs have warmed up I don’t find performing in the class that bad, unless I take it up to a really high resistance.  I am not saying, you should go out and do this but if you keep moving and do 30 minutes or so of mild to moderate intensity cardio, you will feel quite a lot better for that time.  The increase in flow of oxygenated blood to the affected muscles will help to remove any lactic acid build up and bring to it essential nutrients to help repair the damaged fibres. Gentle stretching: When muscles are sore, they tighten up so by performing gentle static stretches you will help the muscles to loosen up and this in turn will provide some relief from the pain. Spend a good 10-15 minutes gradually building the intensity of the stretch.  Hamstrings for example, reach as far to your toes as possible, keeping your leg straight, to the point where you feel mild tension.  When this eases off, inch a little further down your leg and repeat.  Do this as many times as necessary until you feel you are at your usual point of suppleness.  With some muscles, this may not be practical and you may need some assistance.  Qualified personal trainers should be able to help you, if you are at the gym, son’t be afraid to ask for some help! Heat: By applying heat to sore muscles, you cause the blood vessels to open up bringing more blood into the area thus stimulating healing processes.  You can use wheat bags, hot water bottles or deep heat cream.  It has an immediate soothing effect and helps to alleviate pain and muscle spasm. Epsom Salt bath: Epsom salts, or magnesium sulfate is historically known as a natural remedy that is easily absorbed through the skin.  Magnesium is known  to help reduce inflammation and improve muscle and nerve function, while sulfates help improve the absorption of nutrients and flush toxins out of the body. Whilst I am a great advocate of Epsom salt baths, I have come across another mineral for bathing in.  HIMALAYAN SALT is a high quality salt known for its high mineral content and detoxifying properties.  It is natural rich in Calcium which works to increase circulation, Magnesium, to reduce inflammation and improve muscle function and Sodium which is essential to the lymphatic system to aid in detoxification. For both mineral baths, you would need to run a hot bath and add approximately 2 cups to the running water.  Soak in this for about 20 minutes and apart from feeling immediately soothed due to the heat, you should generally feel a bit better the following day. Caffeine: Caffeine is well known for its impact on endurance and strength training performance but it is less widely known for its benefits to help alleviate sore muscles. A recent study suggests that caffeine reduces soreness because it blocks central nervous receptors related to pain. I’ll leave it for individuals to decide if this helps or not… BCAA’s: Branched Chain Amino Acids are well known for there supposed ability to help reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery.  The reason being is that BCAA’s increase protein synthesis and reduce muscle breakdown.  It is advised that you dose BCAA’s before and after intense training to help reduce DOMS. By adding Taurine to your BCAA’s you improve energy metabolism, reduce stress and aid cardiovascular function.  It also appears to aid in the valuable effects of BCAA’s on preserving muscle tissue.  Basically, together, Taurine and BCAA’s improve the water content of muscle fibres , reducing muscle damage, decreasing oxidative stress on the muscles.  The combination also enhances protein synthesis, helping to rebuild muscle glycogen and speeding up the recovery, invariably resulting in less pain and a shorter period of DOMS. IN CONCLUSION: There is no escaping the agony that DOMS causes but by building up your training slowly and placing less emphasis on the eccentric part of exercise, you can at least help to improve your chances of not getting it in the first place. If you do get it I have found in my experience that the most beneficial ways to alleviate the symptoms are as you would expect! Gentle stretching, heat and mineral baths and taking BCAA’s and Taurine combined.  Anything else just doesn’t really do it for me. Maybe one day someone will create the ultimate cure to get rid of the symptoms once and for all (I won’t hold my breath though).