Muscle Soreness and DOMS
There are typically three types of pain that relate to exercise. These include:
1) Pain during or immediately after exercise
2) Pain induced by muscle cramps
3) Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
Each is caused by different scenarios and follows its own time course. Pain during exercise is considered to be the result of many factors influencing simultaneously including acids, ions, proteins, and hormones. Soreness presents the individual with muscle stiffness, aching pain, and/or muscular tenderness. Typically this pain goes away a couple hours after exercise.
Conversely, muscle cramps are the result of sudden and intense excitability deep within the musculature. Individuals who require chronic use of a muscle (like a musician) often get cramping of the muscle however, those who exercise can still get muscle cramps. There is a bit of a debate in the literature with regards to whether electrolyte imbalances causes cramps. That being said, there seems to be strong evidence that electrolyte imbalance is the culprit if there is prolonged sweating in a hot environment. The exact causes are still a mystery.
Delayed onset muscle soreness develops 24 to 48 hours after strenuous exercise and long endurance events like marathons. The effect of the symptoms peak by about 72 hours and resolve within anywhere from 5 days to 2 weeks. It is typically the result of eccentric muscle movements or slow lengthening of the muscles. The soreness is accompanied by prolonged strength loss, muscular weakness, and a reduced range of motion. It is commonly believed that lactic acid is responsible for this pain, although evidence suggests that it is actually caused by positively charged (acidic) hydrogen atoms in the musculature (See “Lactate: Off the Hook for Muscle Soreness” for more on this). When the contractile elements/cells of the muscle are damaged the soreness is caused by an inflammatory reaction to this damage.
The easiest way to prevent muscle soreness from DOMS would be to abstain from prolonged, intense, unfamiliar exercises. There is a debate about whether stretching can prevent muscle soreness but generally it is assumed that the benefits of stretching are marginal. Carbohydrate and protein supplement drinks are seen to be quite beneficial when consumed after a bout of muscle-damaging exercise but not before exercise. It helps to reduce muscle soreness and fatigue.
Recovery of muscle strength may take up to 2 weeks to occur. There is not too much support for most treatments and benefits in helping someone to recover from DOMS. Some examples of treatments that do not have much scientific backing are stretching, massage, cryotherapy, and neutraceutics (foods with pharmaceutical benefits like pomegranate juice). Anti-inflammatories are said to help in reducing pain from DOMS but will not help to minimize the muscular weakness component. Another recovery tool that still needs more evidence to back it up is the use of caffeine. According to a recent study, 5mg per kg of bodyweight of caffeine has beneficial effect on perception of muscle soreness, perceived exertion, and performance after maximal resistance exercise. Finally, there is some research out there about the benefits of curcumin which is found in the spice, turmeric. A 2015 study outlines that curcumin can not only aid in moderate to large reductions in pain but also can help with some aspects of strength loss. These are both promising in theory but only further research will determine their significance in DOMS recovery.
In closing, the best way to deal with Delayed onset muscle soreness is to rest and recover. Take care not to do too much weight, too many reps, too many sets, and/or too much endurance exercise for what your body can handle. Work your way up with baby steps.
If you’re interested in starting a new training program, trying new exercises, or are working towards a goal such as a long distance run or achieving a new personal best in your weight training, you should think about working with a personal trainer to learn more about how to prevent DOMS and muscle pain, and how to best recover. Nutrition is key for your recovery, you may also want to consider speaking with someone on our Nutrition Team or following a nutrition/meal plan.