What Causes Muscle Soreness?
Muscle soreness after a gruelling workout is a secret guilty pleasure of mine, it is a sure sign that you’re making progress. But limping around the office the next morning after leg day with concerned onlookers can get old … fast!
If you have been working out for a while, you’ll know that muscle soreness generally sets in around 24 to 48 hours after the workout, this is known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Lactic Acid is generally the first innocent bystander to be accused when we look for the DOM causing culprit. But the truth is that lactic acidosis has very little to do with it, and actually this pain is due to micro tears your muscle fibres which occur alongside an inflammatory process, resulting in pain (according to Christopher Hogrefe, MD, FACEP, orthopedic surgeon at Northwestern Medicine.
You might already know (from painful experience) that DOMS typically occurs after more strenuous or unfamiliar exercises. Movements that involve muscle and tendon lengthening as you simultaneously contract your muscle (the negative – or lowering portion of the movement when lifting weights) is the main cause of DOMS.
What Are the Symptoms of DOMS?
The main symptoms of DOMS are:
- Muscle soreness
- Decreased strength
- Reduced speed of muscle contractibility
- Muscle stiffness
How to Reduce Muscle Soreness?
Below are 8 techniques you can use for delayed onset muscle soreness relief.
1. Cool down Properly
According to a 2018 study on active recovery, runners who spent time at a decreased level of activity at the end of their actual workout (rather than just stopping completely and hitting the showers) were reported to be able to run 3 times longer in the following workout! This is because of the increased blood flow to the muscles, reducing acid build-up and circulating nutrition to fatigued muscles.
2. Massage Therapy
As you may be aware, massage therapy can be very useful for those sore muscles of yours. Post exercise massage can significantly reduce pain you may experience by reducing the release of cytokines (which are compounds that cause inflammation within your body). An additional benefit of massage is that it stimulates mitochondria within your body’s cells, which promotes cell function and repair (1).
3. Eat Mushrooms
Mushrooms are well known for their anti-inflammatory properties which can help top reduce your muscle pain. They have anti-inflammatory compounds called polysaccharides which serve to reduce the inflammation-causing cytokine compounds within your body (2).
For more info on inflammation, check out the related post - "Foods That Cause Inflammation and Joint Pain".
4. Chug Some Cherry Juice
Loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, tart cherry juice can be very effective in reducing your post-exercise muscle pain (3).
5. Use Foam Rollers
While not for the faint of heart (you are going to feel this!), foam rolling can help to repair your muscles by reducing muscle swelling and promoting faster rates of recovery within your muscle tissue. Just 20 minutes of foam rolling right after you exercise and 24 hours after that can significantly reduce muscle tenderness.
6. Ice Baths
If you thought foam rollers were bad, then you’ll love ice baths! A personal favourite of mine (not really but anyway), these can be very effective as they serve to reduce swelling and tissue breakdown which causes DOMS by restricting blood vessels. An ice bath of 5 minutes can be beneficial, and for those hell-bent on rapid recovery, 10 minutes of chilly bathing can reduce soreness by up to 20% (4).
7. Wear a Compression Vest
Unlike the above, this actually is a favourite of mine. Compression gear can reduce muscle soreness after you exercise and can actually accelerate recovery as it constricts your muscles and prevents fluid build-up, whist increasing blood flow. Not only that, but wearing such gear can also help to reduce the effects of a troublesome enzyme known as creatine kinas, which can contribute to that dull ache you may be familiar with.
8. Use an Ice Pack and Heating Pad
A well-known remedy for muscle soreness, you can use ice packs in conjunction with heat pads to reduce the effect of your DOMS - this is known as contrast therapy. The heat pad increases the blood flow to your muscles and reduces inflammation; whereas the icepack works be reducing the blood flow to a particular area in your body, which can reduce inflammation and swelling. An effective regime you can use is to use the heat pad for 20 minutes on the affected area, followed by the ice pad for the same amount of time, and you will feel those DOMS melt away (5).
Now you know how to reduce muscle soreness and boost recovery - so there will be nothing stopping you! If you have an interest in building muscle – fast, then click here for more info.
- The New York Times: “How Massage Heals Sore Muscles”
- PubMed: “Anti-inflammatory effects of five commercially available mushroom species determined in lipopolysaccharide and interferon-γ activated murine macrophages.”
- PubMed: “Cherry juice targets antioxidant potential and pain relief.”
- PubMed: “Postexercise impact of ice-cold water bath on the oxidant-antioxidant balance in healthy men.”
- PubMed: “The Physiologic Basis and Clinical Applications of Cryotherapy and Thermotherapy for the Pain Practitioner”