Have you got the dreaded DOMS? Are you having to walk down the stairs backwards wishing you had trained more for that recent bout of exertion before you crippled yourself with muscle soreness? Delayed onset muscle soreness – or DOMS – can be one of the most annoying results of overexertion, putting you out of action when you least expect it. Whilst it’s always best to take a proactive approach with specific sports training, there will always be the day when you overdo it and wake up the next day with crazy sore muscles that no longer function as you expect them to.
In order to avoid being struck down by DOMS it’s pretty important first to understand what causes the condition and second to learn what you can do to prevent a reoccurrence. So here’s our explanation of what it’s all about and 6 handy hints for keeping DOMS at bay….
Just exactly what is DOMS?
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the pain and stiffness felt in muscles after unaccustomed or strenuous exercise. A common belief is that it is lactic acid build-up which causes this muscle soreness, but this is false. It is actually the result of microtrauma to muscle fibres which most commonly occur as a result of eccentric (lengthening) exercises. It is felt most strongly 24 to 72 hours and may take 5-7 days to subside. This is all you really need to know however if you’d like to delve deeper into the physiology of muscle soreness and the relationship between DOMS and muscle damage, Ken Nosaka at Cowan University has written a great piece on muscle soreness and damage and the repeated bout effect.
Low intensity activity is one of the most effective means of alleviating pain during DOMS. Movement helps to keep the blood flowing which is important to eliminate metabolic waste from the inflammatory processes and also to bring healing nutrients to the damaged area. Movement also helps to prevent the muscles stiffening up between myofascial layers which contributes to soft tissue pliability. Think walking, swimming, low resistance cycling or low intensity flowing activity such as yoga and tai chi.
Massage also helps to increase blood flow as well as lymphatic drainage to speed up the removal of toxins. The increased blood flow will also help to bring healing nutrients to the area to promote recovery. Once the pain has diminished from the acute phase, you can achieve a really good massage effect independently at home with a simple foam roller. The compression and rolling of tissue stimulates fluid movement and healing processes.
3. Detoxing Baths
A hot bath is a great way to encourage the muscles to relax as well as being another method to increase blood flow. Best saved for 24 hours after your event as increasing blood flow during this time may increase the inflammatory process! You can optimise your bath for healing by adding detoxing epsom salts (magnesium sulphate), anti-inflammatory baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and aromatherapy oils to relax (lavender or ylang ylang) or detox (tea tree or eucalyptus).
4. Good Nutrition
After you’ve downed that post event beer and burger that you so rightfully deserve, you should turn your attention to good nutrition. There is no magic meal plan but you might want to consider a diet that reduces inflammation and allows your body to devote more attention to recovery as opposed to the things that are causing irritation. In general anti-inflammatory nutrition is whole food and plant based with a smattering of grass fed meat and wild fish – in essence foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. We’re talking no processed foods, refined carbohydrates, sugars (yes that includes alcohol!) and particularly the things irritate your digestive tract like gluten and dairy. Oh and while we’re on nutrition, remember to keep hydrated, water is your magic friend!
Sleep is an oft overlooked aspect of training and recovery so this is your excuse to be lazy! Whilst you are asleep, your body can focus on other things like healing. Most people require 7-8 hours of sleep per night however whilst trying to recover from an event as much as 10 hours of sleep per night will contribute to optimal recovery. You may also feel more sleepy than usual during the day – this is your body telling you that it needs some rest so rest you must give it what it wants! So relax, chill out and take a nap – you’ll feel much better for it!
6. Cold Immersion
Last on the list is cold therapy and mainly because it’s controversial. Cold immersion therapy is often recommended and many high performance athletes swear by it however the jury is out about immersion in cool or icy water. Studies have found it has some positive effects for preventing and reducing DOMS but it has also been found to be ineffective in alleviating DOMS. It is best done immediately post exercise to reduce the inflammatory process and onset of DOMS, although the inflammatory process is a major part of healing so some argue that you don’t want to reduce that! We’re not talking huge bags of ice in your bath here, more suggesting quick dips in the sea, mountain lakes, dipping toes in cold icy rivers even a swim at your local pool – if nothing else, when it hots out it feels great!
Remember these techniques are not just for treating DOMS. They are all excellent ways to boost your overall recovery which is often the most overlooked component of the training lifestyle.
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