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Debunking the Myths of DOMS

Thomas Pinna
|
January 20, 2022

With the new year come New Year resolutions. It’s a great time to get back into that gym habit. You may have changed your habits, gone dry or vegan for the month, and now you're back to the gym for a few super sessions.

However, here’s the scenario…

You’re eager to get back into a good workout regime... you hit the gym after the holiday-indulgence and you feel strong, so you push it quite hard and maybe try a few new exercises, you’ve outdone yourself... endorphins are flying and you feel great!...but then… WOW! OUCH! the next day or  two later, you have muscle aches and pains. You find it difficult to move about, perform your usual routines, especially when using the muscles you focussed on exercising during your workouts.

This pain coming a few days after a gym session is called DOMS.

So, WHAT exactly is DOMS?

DOMS stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and is the feeling of achy stiff muscles you get, often in your legs and arms, or the area you have been working out most. You'll most likely get DOMS when doing movements you're unaccustomed to, returning from a break or pushing muscles to exhaustion.

WHEN do you get DOMS?

Most people will feel an ache in their muscles the next day after a strenuous workout which can peak 2-3 days later. As the name suggests there is a delay which often tricks people into thinking they’ve escaped punishment only to feel the ache some days later. Occasionally, it can even last up to a week!

WHY do you get DOMS?

The reason behind DOMS is that the connective tissue and the muscle fibres - the “sarcomeres” - are naturally damaged (micro-tears) after a workout. Sounds scary... but there's nothing to worry about - when you workout you're actually looking to create microtears so that your muscles grow back stronger and bigger.

What kind of exercises cause most DOMS?

It seems like DOMS are largely associated with eccentric exercise - this is the extension or lengthening of your muscles when it is under a load: 'muscle elongation' if you like, and is the opposite of a contracting muscle (shortening). Think of when you are slowly lowering a heavy dumbbell after a biceps curl (biceps elongation) or slowly descending from the top of the bar before starting another chin-up (latissimus elongation).

WHY is there a delay with DOMS?

Well, the reason for the delay is the time it takes for your body to heal itself. Blood cells and many other chemical compounds useful for muscle repair have migrated to the 'damaged' area bringing along fluid (aka. inflammation), this increases the overall pressure in the area which in turn awakens your pain receptors. Pain receptors start sending messages to your brain and voilà... you now have pain.

What are the MYTHS about DOMS?

  • Foam rolling - whilst foam rollers act as a relief for DOMS, this is a temporary fix. There is no change in muscle tone. It is not actually fixing the problem but more of a distraction.
  • Lengthening warm up and cool down stretches - Yes, post exercise stretching will help relieve muscle tension but increasing the time you spend is not going to reduce the effects of DOMS. The muscle damage has already been done and will need its own time to heal.
  • A common belief is that lactic acid build-up is the cause for DOMS. We now know it is not the true. Here's some research for further clarification.
  • Fitter people don’t get DOMS - although it’s true that new types of exercise can bring on more DOMS, the myth that more unfit people are more susceptible than more regular gym goers is a misrepresentation. Yes, there is some justification for the more you load, the more muscle tears you are likely to experience so the more you will feel DOMS but this can happen to everyone. However, if your body gets used to a particular exercise it will happen less.

How do you battle DOMS?

  • Keep moving! Walk it off. If you can’t face the gym, go swimming to lessen the load on your muscles but still work them out or do gentle yoga stretching. Book a class here.
  • Thermo- or cryo- treatment… hot presses will widen blood vessels and promote blood flow, so get rid of swelling. Ice baths taken straight after exercise will constrict blood vessels so lessen the onset of DOMS.
  • Compression clothing - wearing compression socks and tights during training to prevent the extremity DOMS. Compressing the muscles will speed up blood flow and reduce muscle soreness.
  • Massage after exercise can reduce inflammation as it has been shown to reduce cytokine production which causes swelling to occur.
  • A hot bath with Epsom salts (or not!) will help your muscles relax, improve blood flow but it won't remove toxins through your pores. . .
  • Eat a recovery concoction of protein, vitamin C and vitamin E.

How do I know if pain after exercise is DOMS or a sign of damage?

DOMS is a very good sign that your body is healing. Unlike a specific injury, DOMS can be felt as a general feeling of achiness, muscle tightness, tiredness and tenderness to touch. An injury like a muscle tear, instead, will have a more specific sharper pain in one area and possibly signs of inflammation like bruising, swelling and redness. If unsure, do not hesitate to contact one of our expert osteopaths at 03005610161.

Osteopathic effects on DOMS

Osteopathy will help your muscles recover and sooth the aches and pains

HOW?

  • The soft tissue techniques will help move the blood around alleviating swelling in those painful areas. "Delayed-onset muscle soreness was significantly less for the massage condition for peak soreness[…] Massage treatment had significant effects on plasma creatine kinase activity". High levels of this enzyme show muscle damage so if massage can lower these levels, it can decrease inflammation.
  • MET's- muscle energy techniques that osteopaths use to achieve greater stretch in muscles, will improve range of motion.
  • Precise articulation of joints will improve biomechanics in general. Better biomechanics means a reduction in overall load through the tissues. In other words your body's shock absorbency has been improved.
  • Your muscles might be a bit sore but 'good' pain helps block out ongoing 'nagging' pain. This mechanism, known as DNICs - diffuse noxious inhibitory control - is when pain stimuli in another area of the body inhibits the initial pain response.


For more information call and speak to one of our osteopaths on 0300 561 0161, or email us at info@coreclapton.org.

By 

Thomas Pinna

Thomas completed a master’s degree in Osteopathy at Swansea University. He explores the interrelations between our physical and emotional health, and the neuroscience behind it, which led to publishing a research study in the renowned journal Frontier in Psychology. After graduating, Thomas joined the medical-equip Medical Volunteer International, providing Osteopathy for asylum-seekers at the Moria refugee camp. This experience strengthened his resolution to end health inequalities as it is often the case.

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