June 18, 2015

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

Articles by Dr. Erdman are for informational purposes, and are not to be taken as specific medical advice.

Now that summer is finally with us to stay, many people are motivated to get into exercising again. That is great!

One problem many people from new exercisers to hardcore trainers run into is post exercise soreness. There is a technical name for this pain in the muscles that occurs 1-2 days after the workout; it is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS.

DOMS is actually caused by the inflammation from small microscopic tearing of muscle fibers and surrounding soft tissues. The damaged muscles release chemical irritants that contact pain receptors and cause them to fire pain signals to the brain. Generally, the pain of DOMS will go away within just a few days without lasting effects. In the meantime, it will more than likely keep you from being as active as you’d like to be, or just hinder normal movements with pain.

There are ways of reducing how much DOMS you get with some prevention techniques and ways to reduce the consequences of a hard workout with recovery efforts.
There are also some mistakes you do not want to make as they will probably increase your pain post workout.

First, do not fall into the “preventive” use of ibuprofen. I’ve heard many patients say they use pre workout NSAIDS. Research on athletes show no difference in post workout pain by taking NSAIDS. Their harmful side effects on the gut and heart are bad, but they also inhibit collagen production which is essential to heal tissue and bone.

Secondly, do not perform pre-exercise static stretching. This is where you hold a stretch for 10-60 seconds. This type of stretching actually leaves you more susceptible to injury by decreasing blood flow, causing lactic acid buildup, which leads to local irritation and tissue injury.

Several things can be done prior to exercise to prevent as much tissue damage as possible.

Make sure you are fully hydrated prior to, during, and after exercise. If that is not obvious, you have more problems than DOMS.

Second, your warmup procedures must include dynamic stretching of the groups of muscle you are about to exercise, and at least 10 minutes of cardiovascular activity. Studies show this reduced DOMS, but 10 minutes of “cooling down” afterwards had no effect on DOMS.

You can add foam rolling to your regimen. Prior to exercise, focus on areas of current injury or trouble areas. After exercise, roll all areas exercised that day.

Believe it or not, compression garments do have scientific evidence for reducing soreness after exercise. They help minimize swelling and fluid buildup that can delay healing.

After a workout, certain activities can also help reduce your soreness.

While using ice directly after a workout is not recommended as it actually delays the start of healing by about a half a day, the use of ice baths or direct ice to areas of pain used 1 to 4 days post exercise has been shown to be effective to reduce pain.

Serious athletes look to nutrition for a post workout benefit. Consuming quality protein immediately prior to sleep, after strength training late at night effectively stimulates muscle synthesis overnight. For the rest of us, drinking a whey protein shake within one hour of exercise is a great way to resupply your muscles with all they need to recover properly, with less soreness than without it. It’s the essential amino acids in whey protein, especially leucine, that is specific to muscle growth and repair.

Taking organic sulfur or MSM, krill oil, curcumin, ginger, astaxanthin, and eating cherries are all good nutritional remedies for reducing inflammation post workout, or any time for that matter.

There are two activities you want to avoid when DOMS hits. One is just sitting on the couch. Studies show a brisk walk stems the pain much better than rest.

Second, avoid going on an alcohol binge after exercise. Studies show muscle protein synthesis decreases by 37% with six drinks in three hours. So a night on the town after a big game, or heavy exercise actually leads to an increase in the likelihood of future injury.

Keep on exercising, but keep these tips in mind if you get sore afterwards.