Exercise. It gets the blood pumping and the muscles going. It energises you and it tires you out. And sometimes, after a good workout, you wake up feeling all sorts of stiffness in muscles you didnt know you had. So what causes this?
Let’s start by looking at something called: Muscle Hypertrophy:
This is when your muscles increase in size as they get stronger. Due to:
- Mechanical tension
- Metabolic stress
- Muscle damage
This muscle damage is what can cause Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). So while muscle damage is not an essential aspect of hypertrophy, it is a sign that you are on the right track to building muscle… albeit a painful sign.
DOMS is a distinct muscle pain that is caused by overloading the muscles through heavy or unaccustomed activities. It can range in severity and timing and is characterised by a feeling of being sore, achy, weak and generally quite “pap”. Often it develops overnight and one will wake up feeling this soreness. Unfortunately DOMS can often deter people from exercising as they feel they are getting hurt, however this is not the case and DOMS is a natural reaction that does subside.
So how do you know when you have DOMS?
This type of soreness will occur after a bout of intense or unaccustomed activity. As for when it develops, this will depend on the activity, timing and the person, however it is usually 48-72 hours after the unaccustomed activity and will peak two days after.
DOMS can affect anyone, no matter how fit you are. It is based on your training on that day, your actions before, and your health and genetics.
How do the mechanics of this muscle soreness work?
This is a phenomenon that is yet to be fully understood and there are a few ideas on exactly how it works…
- When we overload our muscles, an inflammation caused by microscopic tears in the connective tissue element of the muscle that heighten the sensation of pain.
- When you use your muscles, the cells produce and use chemicals, which have unpleasant by-products and side effects.
- When we exercise, a reaction, something (inflammation?) causes the immune system to react and to suppress this reaction.
- DOMS is “nerve growing pains”. Muscle cells secrete a substance to encourage nerve growth, which feels uncomfortable.
However, we do know that the more you train, the less often you experience DOMS, this is because of the repeated bout affect. A) Your muscles will adapt to the activity and get stronger, and B) your immune cells are ready to deal more effectively with the muscle cell changes, meaning you will have less severe responses.
We know that things like, dehydration, sleep deprivation and vitamin D deficiency can worsen the symptoms, as can physical or emotional stress. So try avoid these.
Some things to try and lessen your post workout symptoms is to warm up properly before exercising, and roam roll after the session, however there is little you can do to eliminate it entirely.
So we can see that there is still a lot we don’t know about this condition. Sadly, we have not discovered much in the way of effective treatment, other than to “wait it out”.
However research has shown modest benefits in the severity and length of muscle soreness with the following:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs (which are believed to mostly help on a pain relief basis).
- Heat packs
- Fish and fish oils
- Light exercise
Inverventions such as massage, cryotherapy, supplements, salts and topical NSAID’s, have not shown significant benefits. Although may help underlying conditions or have a placebo effect.
Resistance training is vital for mobility and stability. We need to allow our body to endure these micro-tears, to be built up stronger and better.
So embrace your DOMS as a sign that you have worked hard and are getting stronger. As well as having comfort that it will all be over in 3 days.