You wake up feeling great about that workout that you did last night. You go to get out of bed and… ouch! Your muscles feel so stiff and tender. Yep, you know what we’re talking about – we’re sure that almost every person has experienced it before. We are talking about Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) – better known as the muscle pain and stiffness you get in the day or two following exercise – and five ways you can help reduce it.
What causes muscle soreness after a workout?
DOMS is often caused by increasing the intensity of your exercise – or working muscles that you’re otherwise not used to working. As these muscles aren’t used to the strain, they develop small micro-tears. Your body responds to the tears, signalling chemical processes to start repairing the damage, including inflammation. These processes, combined with a build-up of lactic acid in your tissues that occurs with strenuous exercise, causes your tenderness.
Don’t worry – having this pain does not mean that you have necessarily sustained a serious injury. If your pain is significant and persists for over 72 hours, however, we recommend having an assessment with your physiotherapist.
How can you reduce the pain?
While your body will still need time to heal and recover, there are definitely things you can do to reduce the intensity of the pain – and improve your recovery time.
1. Use active recovery techniques during and immediately after your workout
Active recovery, where you keep actively moving between sets and during your cool down, has shown in studies to help improve your recovery, lactic acid build-up, and how you feel after strenuous exercise. Instead of stopping after your workout or between sets, go for a walk and stay active for between 20-40 minutes, or throughout the entire downtime between intervals or sets.
If you want to know more you can read our blog post about active recovery and how it differs from passive recovery.
2. Use a foam roller (and stretch)
Using a foam roller, as well as gentle stretching to a lesser degree, will help your move fluid and lactic acid that may otherwise accumulate in your tissues and contribute to your DOMS. The increase in circulation means your tissues get more oxygen and nutrients, which assist in their repair, so your pain is resolved faster. As your muscular tension is relieved, it assists your muscular movement, and you feel less stiffness.
3. Go for a walk or bike ride the next day
Technically, this also falls into the category of active recovery. Gently exercising in the days after your exercise and while you’re still feeling a little tender can help get the blood pumping, the lactic acid dissolving, and promotes healthy repair and function – as long as you don’t overdo it. The focus here is gentle, non-strenuous exercise that increases your heart rate but isn’t difficult or painful to complete.
4. Stay hydrated and fuelled
Studies have shown a link between how well hydrated you are during and after exercise, and the severity of your DOMS in the 24-48 hours following activity. This is because water keeps your fluids moving, which can help promote blood flow and flush out waste products. Always keep a drink bottle on you and maintain your hydration before, during and after your workout.
Make sure you’re fuelled for your workout too – having enough energy to keep you going and enough protein in your diet can also promote a healthy and timely recovery as it facilitates muscle repair.
5. Use heat and ice effectively
Heat and ice can both be effective after your workout for different reasons. If you have significant swelling and pain, applying ice through a towel to the area can help reduce the inflammation and your discomfort. Heat, on the other hand, can help reduce muscular tension and dull your pain signals. Either way, we always recommend keeping warm immediately after your workout with a jersey!
What happens if the pain doesn’t go away?
If your pain doesn’t seem to be decreasing after 48-72 hours, or your pain and swelling are significant, then you may have sustained an injury to a muscle or connective tissue. In this case, it’s important to have it diagnosed and treated – especially as there’s a chance that it may worsen if you continue to do the activity that caused it.
At Thrive Health, we perform comprehensive assessments to not only understand the extent of your injury, but also exactly what has caused it. When we know the cause, we know what to do to help prevent it from coming back, as well as managing your current symptoms.
We love helping our patients stay healthy and active – and reach all of their training, exercise and recovery goals! Book your appointment online with our physio team.