Can we treat DOMS?
Diving into Delayed Muscle Onset Soreness
DOMS is something virtually all of us have dealt with when starting a new training program, going a bit too hard with the weights, or getting back into it after a long rest period. It sucks. You’re sore, stiff, those muscles are fatigued, you have a reduced range of motion, maybe you feel weaker in those muscles or tender to the touch, you may even have some swelling going on. That is Delayed Muscle Onset Soreness, and it can affect anyone and can be just uncomfortable to so painful it can be mistaken for injury (but this is more uncommon). It can be a huge discouragement for people starting a new routine, but don’t let it get you down!
So how does DOMS happen?
If you were to look at an illustration of your muscles you’d see tubes, and inside those tubes are more tubes, and inside those, you guessed it, more tubes. When you up the ante in your movements you can get tiny microscopic tears in those tubes. Your body, being as smart as it is, responds to heal, but in turn, those tears become inflamed, and then from what researchers and scientists who study pain say, this is what causes that soreness. DOMS can appear immediately after a workout but usually peaks around 24-72 hours after the activity.
This can be exaggerated by stress, like being dehydrated, through genetics (everybody reacts differently to pain!), or through eccentric movements, which are movements where opposing muscles both have to work, like running downhill involves your quads and hamstrings for stabilization.
But Vera, how do we stop it from happening?
Well, that’s the bummer. We can’t stop it from happening, but we can treat it from feeling worse. Tips with an asterisk(*) are also good for prevention, not that we can truly prevent DOMS but we can lessen the pain beforehand with some of these tips.
Hydration*. Drink your water before, during, and after a workout! Staying hydrated keeps everything inside moving smoothly, which means your muscles won’t seize up and cramp (which is painful on it’s own, but with DOMS? Oof) from dehydration.
Rest. Honestly this is the most important, sleep is the perfect time for your body to really get to work to help heal you. Sleep deprivation can cause a lot more bad than good, and when it comes to DOMS, there’s no exception. A good reason to aim for that solid 8 hours of sleep!
Gentle Stretching*. Warm ups and cool downs are essential to any workout. But even after once the DOMS has set it, adding gentle movement and stretches can ease the discomfort. Definitely don’t go crazy here, go slow and listen to your body. Mindful Movement (last Monday of the month) is a great class to grab some ideas for gentle stretches to do when you wake up in pain.
Heat*. A personal favourite of mine. A hot shower or bath, a heating pad, or just wearing a few extra sweaters helps keep our muscles warm and loose which can ease pain. When our muscles are cold they contract to keep themselves warm, which can put more pressure on those painful spots.
Ibuprofen. I am in no way a medical expert, so definitely talk to your doctor about this one first. If the pain is real rough you can always take an Advil to help ease the pain. It won’t help bringing back that short-term strength loss back, though.
There’s lots of other ideas of how to treat DOMS, including Epsom salt baths, fish oil, Vitamin D, massage therapy, and so forth. Pain is such a complex and complicated subject, so lots of research still has to be done on how DOMS really works, and the true best way to treat it. For now, it’s lots of trial and error, and maybe combining treatments. Make sure you aren’t pushing yourself more when these muscles hurt. And if your muscle soreness lasts over 7 days though, hit up a medical professional for some advice.