Why you get sore after exercise.

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Well we’ve all seen the funny internet pictures regarding the days after exercise. You know that feeling in your muscles you get after a workout? It may not be straight after, it could be the next day or even 2 or 3 days later. That’s DOMS: the Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness. So what is it and why do we get it?

DOMS can occur when your muscles have been subjected to unfamiliar or intense physical activity. The soreness is most common in those starting a new exercise regime, but is not exclusive to them. Even top athletes can succumb to DOMS, if they train particularly harder than usual. One proven discovery is that DOMS are caused more so by eccentric contractions than concentric contractions (Eccentric: the lengthening of the muscle. Concentric: the shortening of the muscle). As well as muscle pain, DOMS make your muscles weaker than usual so training with DOMS could prove problematic.

Many trainers will account DOMS to the microtrauma in the muscle that occurs when exercising. The theory goes that this microtrauma, or microscopic tears in connective tissue, causes inflammation which sensitises nociceptors and elevates the sensation of pain. However, there is no hard science that points to an exact cause. For the purpose of this article, we can keep it extremely basic and say that DOMS are caused by mechanical or metabolical stresses.

So what can you do to stop DOMS?

Unfortunately, there is no cure. The term ‘time is a healer’ could never be more true than when it comes to DOMS. However, there are ways to reduce the pain:

  • Warm underwater jet massage, aka a hot tub, has been shown to ‘take the edge’ off of DOMS [1]
  • Ibuprofen will reduce the pain (by masking it) although it won’t give you your strength back [2]
  • Whey protein taken after a workout can help to slightly reduce the pain from DOMS [3]
  • Foam rolling may be sore but it can help to reduce muscle tenderness [4]

Methods that don’t work:

  • Ice baths or icing. It isn’t effective and can even be disadvantageous [5] [6]
  • Stretching isn’t effective at relieving muscle pain [7]
  • Antioxidants (e.g. cherry juice). Although they will help to recover strength, they will do nothing to ease the pain [8]

Other notes:

Some people may argue they get benefits from methods such as icing or stretching etc., but these benefits could be due to psychological reasons. Psychological influences can help greatly at pain reduction. For my dissertation I researched the ‘placebo effect’ in sport and returned quite conclusive evidence that a placebo can be extremely effective at reducing pain. Although only reported to ‘work’ in 30-50% of people, placebos have a place is pain reduction, so if a treatment method works for you and is safe, keep doing it!

And for those who love the memes, here’s my take on DOMS:

Hulk

Do you have any tips for stopping DOMS? Reply in the comments below!

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About Author

As a physical education graduate and qualified personal trainer, Mathew is very knowledgable when it comes to fitness. Outdoor training is a personal favourite of Mathew's but he also has a high degree of gym based experience. Location: Carlisle

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