Muscle soreness is a fact of life for any athlete, but with a better understanding of WHY it happens, we can help mitigate, if not fully eliminate some of the suffering. It’s TRUE!! And research has shown that it can be done through movement and nutrition strategies.
Whether in the gym or on a court, ALL forms of exercise can result in pain or stiffness in the areas you’ve worked if done at an intense enough level. The fancy term for this type of pain is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS, and it usually begins between 24 and 72 hours after you’ve finished exercising.
Though it has been debunked by science, the most popular belief by regular people is that DOMS is caused by lactic acid buildup in the muscles during strenuous workouts where your body’s oxygen supply is depleted. However, research has shown this is not the case at all, and that the buildup only lasts for at most an hour or two after your workout is complete. It was also discovered that lactic acid is actually used by your muscles for fuel when oxygen supplies are depleted.
So that’s what doesn’t cause it. But what DOES?
While scientists have agreed that there is damage at a cellular level and inflammation in the muscle, they still don’t understand the entire DOMS process. What they DO know is that DOMS is mostly caused by “eccentric” movements. For example, when doing a bicep curl, lowering the weight back to the start position would be an eccentric muscle action, while moving the weight upward would be a concentric muscle action.
Research has proven that during activities involving eccentric movement, the protein in muscle separates slightly prior to relaxation, causing greater tension on the remaining muscle fibers. Increasing the level of this type of workout can also cause small ruptures in the sarcomere, or the muscle cell’s contracting unit.
According to some scientists, when this type of micro-trauma occurs, pain receptors within muscle and connective tissues are stimulated, triggering the sensation of pain.
Another explanation is termed the “enzyme efflux” theory. Following the micro-trauma, some researchers believe that calcium that is normally stored in the cell accumulates in the damaged muscles. Cellular energy production stops and the energy needed to transport the calcium slows. This calcium build-up may activate enzymes that damage the protein in muscle, causing inflammation and pain due to the accumulation of chemicals like histamines.
While both theories of WHY the soreness happens are different, scientists agree that DOMS is temporary, and is greater in those who either exercise more strenuously than they’re used to, or who don’t exercise regularly. They also concur that it can cause decreased muscle strength, reduced range of motion, and muscle swelling, but not reduced muscle function. Not only that, but in most instances, continued use of the sore muscle has no adverse effect on recovery from soreness, nor does it exacerbate muscle damage.
Simply stated, by slowly starting or increasing the intensity of an exercise routine, rather than stretching or warming up the muscles can reduce, and in some cases even prevent DOMS. In fact, overstretching can by itself CAUSE SORENESS!! And of course, managing electrolytes and glycogen (stored carbs) before and after your workout or match, and consuming an easily absorbed protein like whey is always good for easing soreness faster.
For more information on DOMS, and/or a more personalized approach to preventing it, please contact me either here or through my Facebook page. As a health and wellness professional, I can and WANT to help!