You’ve taken 10 minutes to drag yourself out of bed and crawl down the stairs. You expected a little soreness from yesterday’s class that focussed on butts and thighs, but this feels like you’ve completed a half marathon.
Sounds familiar? You are likely suffering from delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS.
Physiologists now believe that DOMS is the result of minor damage or specifically micro damage to the small contracting units in the muscle called sarcomeres. When a muscle or group of muscles are unaccustomed to an intense workout, tiny tears can form in the sarcomere. The body’s response to the tearing or damage is to flood the area with specialist repair cells and to trigger pain receptors. So, muscle soreness, which usually presents a day or two after intense exercise is not caused by the micro damage but related to the body’s inflammatory response to it.
DOMS can strike any time that the frequency, duration or intensity of your workout is increased. This is generally positive. Especially if your aim is to improve strength, stamina, speed or size (if you are body building for example). It indicates that your body is adapting to meet the increased physical demands placed upon it. If you are trying to improve strength for example, you need to break down some of your existing muscle structure to create bigger, stronger and more capable muscles going forward.
The signature symptoms of DOMS- extreme or atypical soreness, joint stiffness and tenderness, tends to surface 12-24 hours post activity. DOMS may worsen for up to 72 hours post activity. You can help yourself during this period of discomfort by staying active. Even though it may feel like the last thing you want to do. You are more likely to get positive adaptive changes in the structure of your muscles by continuing to exercise gently. Try not to give yourself time off. Its important to also stay hydrated and you can use ice to ease pain especially for the first 24-48 hours.
Rollers and DOMSStrategic use of a foam roller can also be a great way to ease DOMS. Rolling can improve the blood circulation to the affected area. This aids in the removal of the by products of the inflammatory response. A 2015 study in the Journal of Athletic Training by Pearsey et al https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4299735/?report=reader found that
A 20-minute bout of foam rolling on a high-density roller immediately post exercise and every 24 hours thereafter reduced muscle tenderness and decrements in multi-jointed dynamic movements due to DOMS.
Self-massage through foam rolling could benefit athletes seeking a recovery modality that is relatively affordable, easy to perform, and time efficient and that enhances muscle recovery.