What's the deal with DOMS?

What's the deal with DOMS?


So what’s the deal with DOMS?

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, “Any type of activity that places unaccustomed loads on muscle may lead to Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness.This type of soreness is different from acute soreness, which is pain that develops during the actual activity. Delayed soreness typically begins to develop 12-24 hours after the exercise has been performed and may produce the greatest pain between 24-72 hours after the exercise has been performed.”

So you may be asking yourself—do I even want to have this DOMS you speak of? The short answer is yes—but don’t be too quick to run with that answer as it is not quite that simple.

What activities cause DOMS?

So we know that DOMS can be experienced with any physical activity that you’re not used to performing– BUT, it can also surface by completing an activity that you’ve done recently but have increased the intensity or duration of.  This can happen during aerobic or cardio activity such as walking or running—especially during downhill stretches when we have to “hold ourselves back”.  This is also true with strength training and includes a “lowering” or eccentric phase where the muscles lengthen— just think about the lowering portion of a biceps curl.

Does DOMS cause anything besides muscle soreness?

Most believe that while you are experiencing the soreness, your body is working overtime to rebuild the micro tears in your muscles. Wait a second; did you just say I have tears in my muscles?!

To a small extent yes—have you heard that you have to cause significant stress on the muscles to experience “gains”? The microscopic breakdown of those muscle fibers cause several metabolic processes to happen—such as swelling, stiffness, tenderness, decreases in strength, and in extreme cases—elevated Creatine Kinase (CK) that signals muscle tissue breakdown.

It’s okay to be “sore” from the activity, but pay attention to the difference between soreness and actual pain. Although rare, if you have debilitating pain or dark cola colored urine, you may be experiencing Rhabdomyolysis and should seek medical attention immediately.

How can you decrease the effect of DOMS?

Ease into physical activity. By taking a slow approach, you decrease the amount of soreness you feel. You may have done the same activity last year, but your muscles don’t see it that way—so use lighter weights or just body weight for some exercises.  Just one bout of soreness producing exercise actually develops a partial protective effect that reduces the chance of developing soreness in that same activity for weeks or months into the future. Also, repeating the activity decreases your chances of being as sore next time— so KEEP MOVING!

Warm-up. In a recent study, performing a warm-up immediately before performing unaccustomed exercise reduced perceived muscle soreness 48 hours after the exercise bout was completed. Although it was not a huge decrease, as mentioned, every little bit helps when it comes to reducing soreness.

Stay hydrated. When you drink plenty of H20 before, during and after your activity, you not only keep thirst at bay, you also increase the fluidity of your body’s systems that are working together for muscle recovery. The last thing you want is a dehydrated body trying to work and repair itself.

Take Ibuprofen. We know that taking it can decrease the pain you feel, but it doesn’t actually help with the muscle weakness or actual recovery. BUT, if the “pain” of DOMS is in your way, it may be beneficial to take a dose of ibuprofen to alleviate your symptoms.

Wear Compression Garments. It’s okay if you’re not ready to go out and purchase compression sleeves or socks just yet, BUT Hill et al. compiled a meta-analysis to see if wearing these compression garments actually decreased DOMS/enhanced recovery.  The results of their findings indicate that wearing compression garments are effective in enhancing recovery from muscle damage.

EAT. Get BCAA’s—and no, it doesn’t have to be in supplement form. Branched-Chain Amino Acids make up 35% of your muscle mass and are usually used in hopes of reducing muscle soreness, supporting muscle growth, and sustaining muscle mass. BCAAs in particular are “essential” because you need to consume them (whereas “non-essential” can be manufactured in the body for you with proper nutrition).  So, you can choose a supplement for convenience or ensure that you have adequate protein foods in your diet daily.

Foam Roll. Although the research is still preliminary on this one, Pearcey GE et al. concluded that foam rolling substantially improved quadriceps muscle tenderness by a moderate to large amount in the days after an intense bout of exercise that involved the quadriceps. I personally enjoy using the foam roller after a workout anyways, so hopefully this is just an added bonus.

As with anything, make sure you consult your physician about any changes to your health and before stopping or starting any exercise program. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise per week. In addition, we should train each major muscle group 2-3 days/week using a variety of exercises and equipment. Lastly, don’t forget about your flexibility— we should stretch at least 2-3 days/week to improve range of motion.

For more information, questions or comments send me an email or call in to the clinic. I’d love to hear from you!

Yours in Health,

Brook Bentley


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