Soreness after increased activity is a common occurrence for both beginner and experienced individuals. It occurs as our muscles heal from the new activity and is known in the medical and fitness world as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or (D.O.M.S.). Typically the soreness experienced after activity progresses gradually within a 24 to 48 hour period and resolves within a week after the activity is performed. There are several different theories as to why our bodies go through this specific mechanism of healing; however, current research has determined several specific interventions as being effective in order to prevent and reduce muscle soreness.
1) Stretching: Stretching major muscle groups out prior to and after exercise has been shown to consistently decrease the effects of post-exercise soreness. Stretching prior to physical activity will help improve an individual’s flexibility, thus allowing for improvement in the efficiency of movement. Stretching after physical activity will stimulate the muscles to relax through receptors called Golgi Tendon Organs. Stretches should be held for 30-60 seconds and repeated for 3-5 repetitions for each position.
2) Cold Modalities: After increased physical activity, our muscles have to heal and recover, which results in an increase in inflammation. The use of cold modalities, such as ice immersion, ice massage, and cold packs have long been used by medical professionals and athletes to decrease the inflammatory response after an injury. Ice constricts the vessels in our body that allow inflammation to travel, also known as “vasoconstriction”, thus reducing the accumulation of inflammation in working muscles. By reducing the amount of post-exercise induced inflammation through cold modalities, we can help decrease soreness and improve our recovery process in a much quicker manner. *Note: Consult with a medical professional before beginning cold modalities to ensure proper set up and technique.
3) Massage: Massage by a qualified professional has been shown to have several impacts on the reduction of D.O.M.S. Massage has been shown to improve blood flow, increase delivery of oxygen, decrease formation of adhesions within muscle tissue, and decrease the pooling of inflammation. By increasing the amount of good nutrients around our working muscles and decreasing the amount of hormones responsible for allowing our brains to acknowledge pain, we can decrease the perceived level of soreness, ultimately getting back to exercise sooner.
4) Water and Electrolyte Intake: Our bodies sweat as a normal occurrence when our core body temperature rises during physical activity. As this process continues it actively takes water away from working muscles in order to help cool our body down, and continues until our body returns to normal temperature levels. Without the proper amount of water and nutrients needed during strenuous activity, the function and efficiency of muscles can decrease, leading to an increase risk for exercise induced soreness to occur. It’s important to remember that proper hydration takes time and should begin well before you start your activity and continue after you are done with the activity.
5) Exercise: While “pushing through it”, isn’t always the best treatment approach, light activity performed after an onset of post-exercise induced soreness can have a number of beneficial effects, such as increased blood flow, reduced inflammation, and increased endorphin levels (hormones that have pain relief effects on the body). Additionally, by continuing to perform light activities in order to help reduce soreness you will also help your body adapt to the new demands that you are now requiring of it, thus reducing the risk of D.O.M.S from reoccurring.
*Note: It is important to remember that not all soreness after exercise is D.O.M.S. It may require consultation with a medical professional if symptoms worsen or persist.
Don’t forget to check back every month for more information on physical activity, injury prevention, and health care.
Thanks for reading from all of us at Harrison Physical Therapy.