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No pain, no gain? Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

March 28, 2011

I used to compete in freestyle skiing.  Specifically the moguls event.  I was never the best but I had fun enough to have the opportunity to participate one year at a training camp held in mid June on the glacier atop Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler, BC.  For those of you not familiar with skiing, especially at Whistler in the summer:  imagine a hot sunny day, you’re in short sleeves and sunscreen, sliding down a wave of 7-up slushie – summer ski camp is a week of fun in the sun on snow.  One thing to note, however, is that the regular ski season ends in April and therefore I hadn’t been on skiis for about two months.  Although my teenage legs were in good shape, after a two month hiatus, they weren’t conditioned for the rigors of moguls anymore.  Nevertheless, the first day of camp I skied hard.  In retrospect it’s funny that I should be surprised at how sore I was upon waking the next day.  And when I say sore, I mean that I could hardly straighten up from the pain in my legs, hips and back.  For a few moments I wasn’t even sure that I could continue with the camp.  It’s not that I had taken a bad fall or been injured the day before.  It was just a severe case of delayed onset muscle soreness.

We’ve all experienced Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) – that dull, aching muscle pain and tenderness associated with moving or stretching that occurs after we’ve participated in a new activity or one in which we’ve pushed our bodies harder than we normally do.  And with the spring season upon us many of us are itching to shake off our winter slumber and become active once again.  As is often the case, however, our zeal gets the best of us and we do more than what we’re ready for.  Subsequently we’re repaid with DOMS.  The intensity of the pain usually peaks between 24 to 72 hours post exercise and subsides after 5 to 7 days.

The physiology behind the muscle soreness still isn’t completely understood but it’s thought to be due to a combination of two main factors:  connective tissue damage within the muscle fibres coupled with an inflammatory response to exercise.  Regardless of the mechanism, you know that it can hurt.  So here are some simple strategies to help reduce the severity of DOMS.

Start Slow – If it’s been a while since participating in physical activity or if starting a new activity, ease into it.  Start off slowly and avoid the common mistake of doing too much too soon, which, along with DOMS, can lead to more debilitating injuries (see Shin Splints).

Get back in the saddle – perform an activity which takes the sore muscles through their paces at a reduced intensity.  Doing something such as a light walk or jog may temporarily aggravate the soreness but it will quickly resolve and help the muscles to loosen up.

Pamper yourself – a hot bath, a whirlpool spa, or a massage can help to reduce soreness by promoting blood flow to the muscles and connective tissue and enhances recovery.

Stay hydrated – I can’t say it enough.  Your muscles are just plain-ol’  happier when you keep them in contact with enough water.  Everyone has different needs, but a good rule of thumb is to drink up before you get thirsty.

No pain, no gain? – Some mild DOMS is a normal part of working out and being active.  However, if the pain doesn’t start to resolve within about a week there may be more going on than DOMS such as the development of trigger points or an actual injury.  Take the time to get a thorough evaluation from your chiropractor or other health professional familiar with musculoskeletal and sports injuries.

As a society, we no longer lead the physically active lifestyle of our ancestors.  DOMS can be a bit of a reminder that our bodies are meant to move, that we shouldn’t take our muscles for granted, and that we need to engage in regular activity.

If you’re looking for more information on muscle or sports injuries contact us at Clear Path Chiropractic Health Centre in downtown Guelph Ontario.

Photo Credit:  713 Avenue

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