09 Oct 2013

DOMS – What’s the best cure and treatment?

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I went to visit my strength and conditioning coach, David Sutton, this weekend for some treatment. I knew it would be a tough session, and expected to be worked to the limits. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when I had serious aches and pains the following day. I also was trying to figure out my schedule of training for the week, and had planned a hard turbo session on the following evening. Judging by the aches, I decided this was perhaps not wise and opted for a recovery run.

While trotting / hobbling round the run, the topic for this blog suddenly came to me… what IS the best cure for DOMS? So, lets see….

What is DOMS?

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness was originally associated with lactic acid build up, but it is now thought to be related to ‘microscopic tearing of the muscle fibers. The amount of tearing (and soreness) depends on how hard and how long you exercise and what type of exercise you do. Any movement you aren’t used to can lead to DOMS, but eccentric muscle contractions (movements that cause muscle to forcefully contract while it lengthens) seem to cause the most soreness.’ http://sportsmedicine.about.com/cs/injuries/a/doms.htm

Your age, athletic conditioning and skeletal muscular system are believed to be the main contributing factors. Young athletes are susceptible due to their conditioning not being fully developed, whereas older athletes are also susceptible due to age, shifting hormonal status and slower recovery response.

It cannot be lactic acid, because research shows the levels of lactic acid in the muscles returns to normal within 30-60 minutes. http://www.sportsinjurybulletin.com/archive/1077-muscle-soreness.htm

‘exercise causes muscle damage and then muscle protein breakdown, resulting in cell inflammation and increased local muscle temperature. Pain receptors are activated, causing the sensation of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Further research suggests that muscle damage alone may not be the best explanation for the cause of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Inflammation and swelling should also be considered as they also activate and sensitise pain sensors around the muscle fibres’

What is the best cure?

There is, it seems, no one simple way to treat DOMS. In fact, there has been an ongoing debate about both the cause and treatment of DOMS. There is lots of conflicting advice as to how it is best treated.

Here are the most favoured cures, in order of effectiveness from best to worst:

COMPRESSION GARMENTS:There is a lot of research suggesting these do in fact work. I don’t use mine anywhere near regularly enough to be able to comment though! http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2009/09000/The_Effects_of_Compression_Garments_on_Recovery.23.aspx


SPORTS MASSAGE:deep tissue massage is said to help with DOMS pain, although it may not help with muscle function. There’s a detailed, referenced explanation here: http://anabolicminds.com/forum/exercise-science/6256-doms-treatments-long.html  PERSONALLY I certainly think for me it helps a great deal.I get my sports massage is from Phil Croney: http://www.sprintsportsmassage.co.uk/pages/home.php

GENTLE EXERCISE / ACTIVE RECOVERY: it seems gentle exercise promotes increased blood flow which improves healing. This in turn will help with the pain. This effect could however, be short lived. I would agree with that. After gentle recovery runs, DOMS feel better, but after I have been seated again for a while, the aches do tend to return.

ICE BATHS:the theory here is to constrict blood flow and therefore reduce swelling. This is widely used amongst pro athletes and does seem to have some short term benefits. http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/sampleworkouts/a/Ice-Bath.htm

REST: Of course, you could just rest. The effects will go away in 3-5 days. Most athletes are not keen to do this however, as inconsistent training interrupted due to waiting each time DOMS takes hold may have an even more damaging effect on performance overall.

YOGA:there is SOME evidence to suggest this may help, but it is hard to isolate the variables. Maybe it is more a case of a variety of movements prepares the muscles better for the workload. This would tie this in closely with the effects of a proper warm up.

ANTI INFLAMMATORY DRUGS:  There is some conflict in opinion, but in generalit seems not! There is little evidence to support this.

GENTLE STRETCHING:It seems that if done wrong, this can cause, rather than prevent DOMS. If you are going to stretch, it should be done immediately following exercise while the muscles are still warm. Research suggests that this does not help at all. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2489863

Melanie Ryding