Aaron Chy, BSc General, PharmD Student
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
How often have you wanted to hit the gym (and had the time), but still had aches from your previous workout? Or how about when you’re headed to work, and can barely make it up the stairs after doing squats earlier in the week? When our days are busy enough and time is scarce, the last thing we need is for sore, tender muscles to hold us back.
Last week, we talked about what Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS is all about. Long story short, it’s your body getting a payback for going through a tough workout. Whether it be a gym session or just an afternoon doing some physical work, muscle strain takes its toll in the form of DOMS. Now the question is, after repeated workouts, will your muscles eventually become stronger? Yes. But, is it possible to get the same benefits without the pain? The answer is also yes, and we covered that in the previous article. So, be sure to check it out.
That being said, no one’s perfect. The reality is, we all get sore from time to time. When life moves fast, and you can’t afford to be left behind, getting you back in tip-top shape is a priority. So today, we sort out the facts from the bro-science to help you keep going strong.
What Doesn’t Work
Whenever it concerns our bodies, everyone’s got their own opinion. When your gym-buddy says one thing, but that one famous lifter on Youtube says another, who do you trust? Fortunately, as fitness and athleticism become ever-more popular topics in today’s society, research on different recovery methods is growing.
Here are a few things that likely won’t help with your recovery:
This is probably something you’ve seen before. Antioxidants are widely marketed for their supposed benefits towards longevity, anti-aging and prevention of long-term diseases. Why are they such a hot topic? Our body produces something called Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) as a by-product of creating energy, or when we’re exposed to UV radiation. ROS are considered natural toxins, and our body uses antioxidants to neutralize them. Logic would dictate that more antioxidants should help with recovery – but unfortunately, this isn’t the case.
Antioxidant supplementation doesn’t seem to result in a clinical reduction of muscle soreness following exercise. In fact, excess supplementation can lead to possible side effects including diarrhea and indigestion.1
Stretching, both before and after exercise, is a common practice to improve blood flow, prevent injury, and, of course, to prevent post-workout soreness.
While stretching may have some other benefits and is certainly never a bad idea when done properly, it doesn’t appear to provide any significant improvement on muscle soreness. This remains the same whether stretching happens before, after, or before and after exercise.2
What Does Work
- Cold Water Baths
Ever been a fan of cold showers? Cold Water Immersion (CWI) is a method commonly used by athletes following training sessions. CWI at a temperature of 11 – 15 °C for 11 to 15 minutes is associated with reduced fatigue, inflammation and stiffness. While its benefits may last up to 96 hours, it’s important to be cautious if you have any serious medical conditions or if you’re just not a fan of cold water.
So, how does it work? Exposure to sudden cold causes a response called vasoconstriction, where blood circulation is reduced to save heat. This may sound like a bad thing, but if done immediately following strain to the muscles, vasoconstriction can limit inflammation, meaning less time spent feeling stiff and achy.3
In a study that compared massages to methods like active recovery, compression garments and contrast bathing (alternating warm and cold baths), massage therapy was the most effective at reducing DOMS, pain, fatigue and signs of muscle damage.
How does a massage help the muscles? Muscle damage and soreness are often linked to a build up waste products in the muscle. Massaging improves blood flow to the affected areas, flushing out wastes and introducing fresh circulation to recovering tissues. Massages have also been associated with reduced cortisol and increased beta-endorphins, meaning they may reduce feelings of stress and improve feelings of comfort and satisfaction. A 20-minute massage immediately or up to two hours after exercise can have relieving effects that last up to several days.3
- Foam Rolling
Foam rolling involves rolling your body across a cylinder made of foam or plastic, using the weight of your own body to provide a form of self-massage. Much like a conventional massage, foam rolling improves blood flow and oxygenation while reducing swelling and waste build-up.
A 20-minute session of foam rolling following a workout, repeated every 24 hours can reduce pain and discomfort, while shortening the time it takes for your muscles to perform normally again. For those who don’t have the time or access to a regular massage, foam rolling is a cheap, effective and convenient alternative to hasten muscle recovery.
The Bottom Line
There’s nothing wrong with a quick pre-workout stretch to loosen up the joints and wake the muscles up, but don’t get too carried away thinking that you’ll reduce your soreness later. Also, you can take a pass on antioxidant supplements and miracle-juice. On the other hand, methods that improve circulation have a consistently positive effect. Cold water baths, massaging and foam rolling after exercise are some of the best methods for improving recovery time and reducing discomfort, with foam rolling being the most convenient and affordable option.
Altogether, training at a consistent pace and taking proper care of your body is the key to getting back to work faster with fewer breaks. At the end of the day, the person who does more frequent, moderate workouts will go much farther than the one who goes 100% in one session then can’t move for an entire week.
We hope you took away something valuable from this piece. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this article or others, feel free to reach out to us on Instagram, Facebook, or at firstname.lastname@example.org with your feedback. We’d love to hear from you.
- Ranchordas, M. K. (2017). Antioxidants for preventing and reducing muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database Of Systematic Reviews, (12), doi:10.1002/14651858.CD009789.pub2
- Herbert RD, de Noronha M, Kamper SJ. Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD004577. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004577.pub3.
- Dupuy, O., Douzi, W., Theurot, D., Bosquet, L., & Dugué, B. (2018). An evidence-based approach for choosing post-exercise recovery techniques to reduce markers of muscle damage, Soreness, fatigue, and inflammation: A systematic review with meta-analysis. Frontiers In Physiology, 9(APR), doi:10.3389/fphys.2018.00403
- Gregory E. P. Pearcey, David J. Bradbury-Squires, Jon-Erik Kawamoto, Eric J. Drinkwater, David G. Behm, and Duane C. Button (2015) Foam Rolling for Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Recovery of Dynamic Performance Measures. Journal of Athletic Training: January 2015, Vol. 50, No. 1, pp. 5-13.