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Is it just Muscle soreness post exercise or an Injury?

Ever been stiff and sore the day after  heavy gardening?   Or struggled to climb the stairs the day after doing some squats?   Muscle soreness is something practically everyone gets this from time to time. How do you know if it’s just muscle soreness or an injury that needs treatment?

DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness)

Most likely you have had DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness).  This is the result of microscopic tears in the muscles and surrounding connective tissues, causing inflammation. 

DOMS is a feeling of soreness that usually comes on 24-72 hours after heavy exercise (this could be gym based or even after hard physical work). 

Injury

If you have pain that is very sharp, caused by a specific movement (like trying to lift your arm) and that doesn’t go away after a couple of days then you are likely to have an injury rather than DOMS.  If you aren’t sure contact me

There are lots of myths around DOMS and here a few…..
1) DOMS is caused by the build up of lactic acid in your muscles:

FALSE

When working out, your body  forms energy through very complicated chemical reactions in your muscles. As a result of this process lactic acid builds in your body’s cells  which causes the “burn” you feel when you are getting a good workout. 

If you have ever exercised to the point of failure when your muscles start to shake and you simply cannot lift anymore you have hit the limit on the amount of energy your muscles can produce (this is called the lactate threshold)  These lactates clear from the muscles within 15-30 minutes after your workout  so a short term burning feeling is not DOMS

 A study in Clinics in Sports Medicine concluded that DOMS is the result of microtrauma in the muscles and surrounding connective tissues which causes inflammation. Thus it isn’t the build up of lactic acid.

2) It’s not a good workout unless you’re sore the next day:

FALSE

NO pain no gain is a myth!    In reality if you workout regularly you will almost certainly get DOMS from time to time especially if you change your routine.  But it’s wrong to think if you aren’t getting DOMS you are not improving.  If you start pushing yourself so hard you feel DOMS after every workout you will be pushing yourself towards an injury.

Best advice is to switch up your routine now and again and if you get DOMS accept it as a normal part of getting fit. But don’t exercise so hard to make yourself get it all the time.

3) Only unfit people experience DOMS

FALSE

You may find that when you get used to an activity you feel sore less often after working out.  This is because your  muscles have adapted to the load you’re putting on them.  

But that’s just a sign that your body has adapted to the form of working out you do regularly.  If you were to change your workout you might find DOMS comes back.  You could be in great shape from running but get DOMS after squatting.  Getting DOMS does not mean you are unfit – you just aren’t adapted to the exercise you are doing.

That’s why it’s suggested to change your workout routine regularly in order to challenge yourself.  Training in different ways and switching it up helps prepare your muscles for many different forms of activity and keeps challenging them to rebuild and grow.

 4) Muscle damage is always bad:

FALSE

A small amount of damage to muscles is what stimulates them to grow bigger and stronger.  The damage is a result of small microtears in the muscles and in repairing these microtears the muscles get stronger.  Moderation is key here though!  Too much challenge on the muscles will cause injury!

5) Pre and post workout stretching can prevent DOMS:

FALSE

 According to the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews on the effects of stretching before or after exercise on the development of DOMS, stretching in healthy adults before and after exercise did not reduce the effects of DOMS. Static stretching performed before a workout however, was shown to decrease your strength during the workout. 

A better way to warm up before exercise is to carry out some basic mobility movements and start your exercise at a lower intensity before building up (eg when running start with a brisk walk then move to a slow jog as a warm up)

When trying a new routine, start slowly and with caution in order to allow your body to adjust to the new movements. Don’t jump right into an excessive routine because you think you’ll get faster results. That’s simply not how the body works. Doing that means you’re more likely to injure yourself and burn out in the process.

So now you know it’s DOMS what can you do to help it pass?

First of all remember DOMS will go away in a couple of days but a couple of things you can do to ease it

  • a good old fashioned hot bath (epsom salts might help too)
  • magnesium oil spray
  • gentle exercise (a walk or some light yoga)
  • massage with aromatherapy oils such as black pepper, lavender or lemongrass

Wait for the worst of the pain to ease before launching into another heavy exercise session.

If you are regularly experiencing pain and soreness after exercise it could be a warning sign you are headed for injury or have an injury already.

If you are struggling to get into exercise or finding aches, pains and injuries are preventing you from doing the things you love I offer a sports therapy appointment where I give advice tailored to you around injury prevention and hands on work to restore mobility and relieve pain.

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