Nothing spells a rough workout like delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It’s the type of muscle pain that makes sitting down a chore for a few days after a hard workout and can hit you up to 48 hours after exercise.
The good news is you can minimize this discomfort by taking a few, simple proactive therapeutic measures.
“If you’re going to get delayed onset muscle soreness, it’s going to be a day or two after you exercise,” says Dr. Kevin Sherman, a sports chiropractor and Active Release Therapy practitioner. “It’s caused by microscopic amounts of trauma to the muscle tissue and the resulting inflammation.
Know Your Pain
Dr. Sherman explains there are two types of pain an athlete may feel post-workout.
Immediate onset muscle soreness or the pain of a legitimate injury is more mechanical in nature and results from direct physical irritation of pain nerves. While DOMS is more chemical in nature and is a result of the inflammation caused by micro- trauma to the soft-tissues.
“Immediate soreness should dissipate relatively quickly, usually within 24 hours. If not, then it could be an injury,” says Dr. Sherman.
DOMS, however, will creep up on you 24-48 hours after a tough workout, and a sure sign is muscle stiffness and soreness that is symmetrical. For example, if you’re a runner and you have one sore quad and one that’s not, that’s a strong indication you could be injured.
Athletes need to respect a period of recovery. “The pain is a message telling you that there is some damage on some level. Also, it’s important to remember that all of the adaptations your body makes in response to exercise occur during rest,” he says.
8 Ways to Relieve Sore Muscles Fast
Here are Dr. Sherman’s top tips for saying so long to DOMS:
- Cold packs. 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off for two to three cycles several times a day. Do not use frozen ice packs, as there is a high risk of frostbite.
- Cold water baths. The most therapeutic temperature range is 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Submersion in cold water also benefits the muscles by delivering the compressive effect of the water around your muscles.
- Epsom salt baths. Keep the temperature below 98 degrees. Epsom salt increases the density of the water. “Getting in the bath is like a whole-body compression sock. Consequently, it pushes fluid out of the tissue,” Dr. Sherman says.
- Compression garments. Compression tights are optimal. After that, compression socks for soreness below the knee. Wear them for the last two to three hours of the day and don’t sleep in them. “One of the most effective self-treatments people can do for muscle soreness below the knee is to wear compression socks. They deliver tremendous healing benefit,” he says. Dr. Sherman advises not to use compression sleeves on your legs – ever – for muscle soreness or an injury, as the sleeves trap fluid in the foot.
- Gentle massage. “After a heavy workout or a race, you don’t want to get a deep-tissue massage. It will only cause more damage,” Dr. Sherman warns. A light massage with a therapist who understands lymphatic flow could be beneficial. “A deep-tissue massage at the finish line of a marathon is a really bad idea. You could cause all kinds of damage to the system.”
- Eat nitrogen-rich foods. These include pomegranate juice, green leafy vegetables, beets, and beetroot juice. There is also scientific evidence that supplementing with branch-chain amino acids before and during exercise is beneficial. Magnesium and Vitamin D are also recommended for recovery.
- Active Recovery. Low-resistance, active recovery exercise can speed up the recovery process, as well. Walking, a gentle swim or an easy spin are all great options.
- Cross training. Cross training is essential to every athlete in order to increase your muscle capacity to endure various loads.