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Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness - DOMS

By:   |   Jul 08, 2018   |   Views: 34   |   Comments: 0

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness - DOMS

Whether you're new to a sport or a veteran who's recently upped their game to a higher level of intensity, muscular aches and pains the day after a training session are a common feature.  In the past, this has been put down to the build up of lactic acid, a by-product of anaerobic respiration, where the muscles are working faster than we can supply the oxygen to feed them.  However, studies have proved that the body is capable of cleanly breaking down lactic acid and reabsorbing its constituent parts within an hour of exercise and with no ill effects to the muscles¹.  So what then causes the stiffness and aching the morning after?

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS, is generally the culprit.  This condition is characterised by a dull, aching pain felt when the affected muscles are either stretched or contracted.  The pain will usually increase over the first 24 to 72 hours, decreasing over the following few days, and is usually cleared up 5 - 7 days following onset.  It is caused by micro tears in both muscle fibres and connective tissue or fascia, due to a sudden increase in the intensity of exercise for particular muscles during a training session, or the addition of new exercises to your routine.  Micro tears are a fact of muscle development.  When we increase our exercise load, we challenge the body, taking it out of its comfort zone and minor damage to muscle fibres can often result.  When the fibres heal, the body will pack in more protein, strengthening the affected muscles to help them meet the new intensity of exercise.  Training does not have to be stopped, but the soreness may force you step down the intensity of your exercise programme for a few days while the muscles recover.

Although there is minor tearing of muscle fibres and their surrounding connective tissue, DOMS should not be equated with muscle strain.  Where muscle strain occurs, larger areas of muscle fibres have become torn as a result of injury and bleeding may occur into the muscle.  Unlike DOMs, where exercise may continue, a strained muscle should be rested to allow healing to take place and to prevent further injury.

Sports Massage can aid greatly in the recovery from DOMS as it helps to improve circulation to the affected area, bringing in more blood and oxygen to help aid the body's natural repair.  It also helps to flush away any waste or debris left over from the micro tears, taking away some of the irritant factor which causes low grade inflammation.  Massage also helps reduce pain in the affected muscles, due in part to the release of endorphins into the blood and possibly to the rise in serotonin levels following a treatment.  Serotonin has been noted for its analgesic effects.  The neural gating mechanism is also a factor.  Pain signals travel back to the spinal cord at a slower rate than either pressure or cold signals.  The increased traffic in pressure signals due to massage, block the slower moving pain signals, thereby relieving discomfort.

Occurrence of DOMS can be reduced significantly by gradually introducing changes in your exercise routine.  If you are increasing intensity, be it in your cardio workout or strength training programme, do so over time, allowing the body to adapt easier.  Although a training programme should be challenging, it should not push you to the point of pain or exhaustion.  The much touted phrase, "No Pain, No Gain" has no basis in truth.

Reference: Disposal of Lactate during and after Strenuous Exercise in Humans, Journal of Applied Physiology, Vol 61(1), pp338-343, 1986

Author: Tricia Lyle-Stirling

Dublin Therapeutic Massage Clinic

Date: 02/03/2011

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