From the average gym goer to professional athletes, anyone can experience delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. It strikes 24 to 72 hours after a period of reduced activity or when introduced to new exercises. The symptoms range from mild muscle tenderness to debilittating pain. If you’ve ever experienced this, you know the struggle of walking up and down the stairs and putting on pants in the morning. Your muscles feel stiff and are sore to the touch. To understand the types of activities that cause more severe and frequent soreness you need to know the different types of muscle contractions. There are isotonic contractions which generate force by changing the length of the muscle and isometric contractions which generate force without changing the length of the muscle. The two different types of isotonic contractions are concentric and eccentric contractions. Concentric contractions cause the muscle to shorten and generate force whereas eccentric contractions cause the muscle to elongate in response to a greater opposing force. Eccentric activities create the most intense soreness because they induce micro-injury more frequently than any other type of contraction.
Many people look to the internet for ways to prevent and reduce the symptoms of their soreness. Some common ways people prevent soreness is by performing a cardio-based warm up or static stretching. Once the soreness kicks in, common ways people reduce their symptoms are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, massaging, cryotherapy, stretching, homeopathy, ultrasound, and electrical current modalities. Without any background knowledge, people might be wasting their time trying techniques that have no proven evidence of preventing or reducing soreness. What really is the best treatment to alleviate the symptoms of DOMS or is time your only option?
One study looked at the effects of stretching before and after exercise on muscle soreness. They did a systematic review of five different studies which all included young healthy adults as their participants. The participants stretched from 300 to 600 seconds between the studies and muscle soreness was measured at 24, 42, and 72 hours after exercise. They found that stretching before or after exercise has no effect on delayed onset muscle soreness.
Another study was performed that looked at if a warm-up or cool-down reduces delayed onset muscle soreness. They randomly assigned 52 healthy adults to four groups: a warm-up and cool-down group, a warm-up only group, a cool-down only group, and neither warm-up nor cool-down group. The warm-up and cool-down was 10 minutes of walking and the eccentric exercise was 30 minutes of walking backwards downhill on a treadmill inclined at 13 degrees at 35 steps per minute. The participants were asked to record their muscle soreness 10 minutes after exercise as well as 24, 48, and 72 hours after. The results showed that a cool-down had no effect on soreness and a warm-up produces a small reduction in muscle soreness.
It’s a day after your hard workout and you can’t walk. What do you do? A study in Sports Medicine found that cryotherapy, stretching, homeopathy, ultrasound, and electrical current modalities all have no effect on DOMS. They found that massage could have an effect based on the timing of the massage and the technique used. This data was also supported by a study done by Nicole Nelson, who found massages to be a promising result in reducing soreness.
While there are a lot of studies done on DOMS, there are several limiatinos. One problem is that there are multiple ways to measure muscle soreness, so it can be hard to compare studies to each other. Some studies used a visual analogue scale and some used a 0-10 measurement. The mechanism for what causes delayed onset muscle soreness is still unknown, which makes it difficult to prescribe an accurate treatment. In one study, walking was the warm-up as well as the exercise to induce the muscle soreness. They didn’t look at if having a walking warm-up would still be effective if squats was the exercise inducing the muscle soreness. For some of the studies, the outcome measures were all self-reports so the participants could have mis-reported.
From my own personal experience, I experience delayed onset muscle soreness whenever I try out a new workout or increase the intensity of an old one. Usually, I just let the soreness runs its course and don’t do anything to reduce the symptoms. From the literature, it seems like the best thing to do is wait. To prevent DOMS you can try and ease into the exercise rather than performing it at full intensity the first time. Cryotherapy, stretching, homeopathy, ultrasound, and electrical current modalities all had no effect on muscle soreness. Warming up before exercise seemed to have a small effect, but won’t drastically reduce the severity of DOMS. There still needs to be a lot of research done on the mechanism of DOMS in order to find out the appropriate treatment.
Questions and Comments
Are there any other methods of prevention or treatment that work for you?
Have you tried any of the treatment options above and have they helped alleviate your soreness?
Please leave any comments or questions about DOMS below!
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