Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is name given to the common muscle ache we feel a day or two after a particularly difficult or new workout. It is most common after attempting some new or unusual exercises that target muscle groups not worked frequently. It is nothing to worry about – indeed some people enjoy it as the sign of a good workout – but it can last several days, and hold up further training.
The exact cause of DOMS is most likely the result of microscopic damage to muscle fibres and connective tissues, with accompanying inflammation and immune system response. This damage leads to the release of chemicals including prostaglandins and cytokines, which contribute to soreness and discomfort.
While DOMS does resolve on its own, there are a few effective treatment options that can help promote faster recovery. These include:
Rest: Our favourite prescription! Allowing the affected muscles time to rest and recover is crucial. This includes avoiding further strenuous exercise that may exacerbate the soreness and potentially lead to more serious injuries.
Gentle stretching: Light activity, such as walking or gentle stretching, can help promote blood flow and alleviate muscle stiffness associated with DOMS. However, it is important to avoid overexertion, as this can further damage the muscles.
Cold therapy: Applying ice or cold packs to the affected muscles can help reduce inflammation and numb pain, providing temporary relief. Cold therapy can be applied for 15-20 minutes at a time, multiple times throughout the day.
Heat Therapy: Heat therapy, such as warm showers or using heating pads, can help improve blood circulation to the affected muscles, promote relaxation, and alleviate stiffness. It is important to avoid applying heat immediately after exercise or when inflammation is still present.
Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain associated with DOMS. Our usual disclaimers apply about speaking with your pharmacist!
Massage Therapy: This is where we come in! Massage helps by increasing blood flow to the affected muscles, promoting the removal of metabolic waste products, and reducing inflammation. A study published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that massage significantly reduced DOMS symptoms and improved muscle function compared to a control group. Another study in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation reported that massage helped alleviate muscle soreness and improved muscle strength recovery.
You may well find that only very massage pressure need be applied to affected muscle in order to feel relief; deep tissue work on DOMS-affected muscles is likely to be too painful! You can also use foam rollers, or self-massage techniques to check whether massage is likely to prove beneficial before making a booking with us.
DOMS is certainly uncomfortable, but it is a natural response to intense exercise and generally resolves on its own within a few days. For athletes on a programme, it is important to treat the DOMS so as to continue training.