We’ve all experienced it; the feeling of being hit by a truck the following morning or second morning after doing something exercise-related. Maybe we’ve not been as active lately or have played a familiar sport (or activity) that we haven’t done in a while, whatever the case, delayed onset muscle soreness can affect you at any age and with virtually any new or re-introduced activity from gardening to squash. What is delayed onset muscle soreness?
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is exactly what the name suggest... the delayed onset of some serious stiffness and pain that occurs within 24 – 72 hours following exercise. DOMS usually subsides within a couple of days at which point your muscles return to ‘normal’. There is some argument as to what causes DOMS however, one thing is clear, there is damage and/or micro-tearing to the muscle fibres. This damage is precipitated during eccentric muscular contraction – when a resistance is applied to a muscle as it ‘lengthens’ – anyone who has ever played squash or run downhill will be very familiar with this type of contraction and the pain that ensues.
Why we need our muscle to "break down"...
Don’t get me wrong, DOMS isn’t a bad thing. In fact, if muscle didn’t experience some degree of stress to those little cross bridges working overtime (actin/myosin and Huxley’s cross bridge theory), hypertrophy (muscle density growth) wouldn’t occur and we’d never get stronger. Hypertrophy, an increasing in muscle fibre size/density depends on the breaking down and the building up of muscle fibres through this continued process.
Ok, our muscles are sore, now what?
Fortunately there is something we can do to help ease the pain and soothe our stiff, painful and somewhat weakened muscles: active recovery. One of the best ways to feel better during DOMS is to perform light exercise like walking, cycling, and swimming, anything that allows for the muscles to be warmed up and to promote increased circulation. This recycling of metabolic wastes that have accumulated in the muscle from the previous exercise session will speed recovery on a physiological level and help you ‘feel’ better too. The body is a wonderful mechanism, we can exercise and make ourselves stiff and sore and it will magically heal itself in a short time. Don’t let DOMS stop you from exercising; through accommodation your body will eventually get used to the process of muscle fibres being constantly broken down and re-built and will be able to deal with the environment you present it.
If you feel sore after your first trip to the gym this year, imagine what it would feel like to ride 3600 kilometres in 23 days over 2 sets of mountain ranges in all kinds of weather...I’m thinking you probably don’t feel sore anymore.