Ever woken up the day after a tough match or really hard exercise session struggling to drag yourself out of bed, because all your muscles were aching?
Every athlete, novice and experienced, knows the deep muscle ache also called DOMS or Delayed Muscle Soreness. After an unusually hard workout, or just a new routine, the muscles are tight, sore and stiff for 2-3 days.
But what is DOMS? And how can we speed up our recovery after exercise?
Here is what you do:
Put on lycra shorts or your spandex, run a cold bath (difficult in summer here in Dubai, so buy lots of ice), grab an alcohol free beer unless you prefer milk or sparkling water and settle in for 15 minutes. Afterwards have a big steak! Congratulations, you just did everything proven to work for DOMS.
Why it works:
Compression garments have become increasingly popular in sport due to claims they can improve recovery from strenuous exercise. It is suggested by providing external pressure the space available for swelling is reduced; also the blood flow is enhanced which may aid the removal of waste products. While not comprehensively proven, a lot of athletes report a rapid recovery of muscle strength and reduction of muscle soreness.
Using ice after hard exercise is very popular and has a positive effect on both the inflammation in the muscles as well as the pain.
What we eat and drink can also affect recovery. Some people swear by a hearty protein meal after hard exercise and they are right, the protein helps with the muscle recovery. When it comes to drinks there is a bit of surprise: studies have proven that low fat milk not sports drinks or plain water is the best option for rehydration.
There has been discussion around the value of carbonated drinks, including beer, as effective recovery drinks. Non-alcohol beer (sorry!) is naturally full of carbohydrates and electrolytes, which aid recovery, and avoid the unwanted diuretic effect of alcohol.
What about other options?
Arnica creams are often recommended which help with the pain, but have no effect on the inflammation.
A hotly debated topic is stretching; does it have benefits after working out or not? Without going into too many details it seems that stretching after exercise does not speed up the process of DOMS. However if it feels good for you go ahead, just gentle and pain free, as you otherwise might increase micro tears in the muscle.
Heat applications including heat creams often feel good and reduce the pain but will increases the inflammation and therefor shouldn’t be used before the third day.
What are the lasting effects of DOMS?
Although uncomfortable and often a hindrance DOMS is an important physiological process. DOMS triggers a response in the body, which is believed to be responsible for initiating and resolving muscle injury. While speedy recovery is desirable, bear with this period of pain and stiffness. It will help your body to adapt to your sport and improve in strength, flexibility and endurance.
When to seek help?
If symptoms last longer than the usual 3-day period it is advisable to see a physiotherapist. A mild to moderate muscle strain may initially have similar symptoms to DOMS but will require physiotherapy treatment to resolve quickly.