Delayed onset muscle soreness : treatment strategies and performance factors

Here’s a usefull abstract

Sports Med 2003;33(2):145-64

Delayed onset muscle soreness : treatment strategies and performance factors.

Cheung K, Hume P, Maxwell L.

School of Community Health and Sports Studies, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand.

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a familiar experience for the elite or novice athlete. Symptoms can range from muscle tenderness to severe debilitating pain. The mechanisms, treatment strategies, and impact on athletic performance remain uncertain, despite the high incidence of DOMS. DOMS is most prevalent at the beginning of the sporting season when athletes are returning to training following a period of reduced activity. DOMS is also common when athletes are first introduced to certain types of activities regardless of the time of year. Eccentric activities induce micro-injury at a greater frequency and severity than other types of muscle actions. The intensity and duration of exercise are also important factors in DOMS onset. Up to six hypothesised theories have been proposed for the mechanism of DOMS, namely: lactic acid, muscle spasm, connective tissue damage, muscle damage, inflammation and the enzyme efflux theories. However, an integration of two or more theories is likely to explain muscle soreness. DOMS can affect athletic performance by causing a reduction in joint range of motion, shock attenuation and peak torque. Alterations in muscle sequencing and recruitment patterns may also occur, causing unaccustomed stress to be placed on muscle ligaments and tendons. These compensatory mechanisms may increase the risk of further injury if a premature return to sport is attempted.A number of treatment strategies have been introduced to help alleviate the severity of DOMS and to restore the maximal function of the muscles as rapidly as possible. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have demonstrated dosage-dependent effects that may also be influenced by the time of administration. Similarly, massage has shown varying results that may be attributed to the time of massage application and the type of massage technique used. Cryotherapy, stretching, homeopathy, ultrasound and electrical current modalities have demonstrated no effect on the alleviation of muscle soreness or other DOMS symptoms. Exercise is the most effective means of alleviating pain during DOMS, however the analgesic effect is also temporary. Athletes who must train on a daily basis should be encouraged to reduce the intensity and duration of exercise for 1-2 days following intense DOMS-inducing exercise. Alternatively, exercises targeting less affected body parts should be encouraged in order to allow the most affected muscle groups to recover. Eccentric exercises or novel activities should be introduced progressively over a period of 1 or 2 weeks at the beginning of, or during, the sporting season in order to reduce the level of physical impairment and/or training disruption. There are still many unanswered questions relating to DOMS, and many potential areas for future research.

As the article states, exercise has an analgesic effect on DOMS. However, this is not just from receptor inhibition. Exercise provides increased circulation and ‘pump’ to the muscle which partially clears the chemicals/inflammation resulting from muscle destruction, and alleviates some/all of the soreness and decreased ROM temperarily. And once exercise has ceised, although soreness returns, recovery may have moved on an extra step, especially if the intensity of the exercise was not too high. With DOMS, performance is nearly always diminished, therefore, exercise intensity should either be low-moderate to help alleviate DOMS, and/or avoid the muscle with DOMS.

Also, since low-moderate exercise appears to aid DOMS recovery, would it be effective to also include contrast bathing, sauna etc. of which also increase the circulation to the area but without the ‘muscle pump’, or would inflammation increase? I have only just started experimenting with such treatments.

It is also interesting that cryotherapy was not found to aid DOMS. This may point to increased circulation and ‘muscle pump’ to the area being the most important aid ie. in removing tissue debris/chemicals, therefore less of an inflammatory response needed.