Tips for avoiding delayed onset muscle soreness DOMS for short. I hate them.
If you have ever had trouble getting out of bed? Having to walk backwards down the stairs because your legs feel as though they are on fire? You are probably suffering from DOMS.
Every athlete, regardless of fitness level, has experienced sore and stiff muscles after moderate to strenuous exercise at the start of a new training programme. These symptoms usually occur after eccentric (downhill running, plyometrics, etc) or unaccustomed exercise. During these activities your muscles become more susceptible to structural damage, resulting in muscle soreness, loss of strength, decreased range of motion and neuromuscular function. All of these symptoms together are generally referred to as DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) – ‘delayed’ because the greatest pain often occurs, confusingly, some time after the exercise, usually peaking 24-72 hours after the activity.
Research investigating the cause of DOMS dates back to the early 1900s and several theories have been put forward to explain the underlying cause. Probably one of the most popular explanations is the accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles. But we now know that blood and muscle lactate levels typically return to normal values after 30-60 minutes of recovery. Furthermore, eccentric exercise produces the most severe muscle soreness but requires relatively low energy expenditure (even less than needed for concentric exercise). Therefore if lactic acid were to cause DOMS, muscle soreness would be expected to be greater after exercise with a higher metabolic cost (concentric activity).
Subsequent research has suggested that damage to the muscle ultra structure and connective tissue may be responsible for DOMS. It is suggested that a sequence of events, starting with exercise, causes muscle damage followed by muscle protein breakdown, resulting in cell inflammation and increased local muscle temperature. As a result, pain receptors are activated, causing the sensation of DOMS. Further research suggests that muscle damage alone may not be the best explanation for the cause of DOMS. Inflammation and swelling should also be considered as they also activate and sensitise pain sensors around the muscle fibres.
With a better understanding of the underlying causes of DOMS it is possible to implement preventative strategies. DJ Szymanski of Auburn University offers the following guidelines when attempting to avoid or reduce DOMS.
1. Don’t bother to reach for the medicine cabinet prior to a match or workout. No research supports the use of anti-inflammatory drugs, antioxidant supplements, ointments or creams in the prevention of DOMS.
2. Conflicting evidence surrounds the use of post-exercise massage, post-exercise stretching and cold application.
3. Warm up: research indicates that concentric activity may better prepare the body for the stress caused by eccentric, damage-inducing exercise. Increased muscle temperature results in a reduction in muscle or connective tissue viscosity, a higher resistance of muscle tissue to tearing and increased muscle elasticity.
4. In addition to a warm up, repeated bouts of eccentric exercise performed within 1-6 weeks after the initial bout of exercise have been shown to reduce DOMS and muscle damage allowing for faster recovery of strength and ROM.
Specific action should therefore include:
(a) Perform a dynamic warm up including mobility .
(b) If needed perform specific dynamic mobility exercises for 15-20 minutes.
(c) When starting an exercise programme, avoid movements that entail strenuous eccentric muscle action (downhill running, plyometrics, etc)
(d) Gradually increase the intensity and duration of exercise.
(e) Complete additional bouts of the exercise that originally caused DOMS – for instance, if the apparent damage was sustained during downhill running, additional downhill running within 1-6 weeks will help alleviate the problem.
Strength and Conditioning J, Vol 23 (4) 7-13