Delayed onset muscle soreness – aka DOMS

I have frequently found myself gingerly coming downstairs and getting up slowly from a chair for a day or two after a particularly long or hard run. The most recent case of sore legs – and arms – and stomach – was after a very hard session of circuits with Quit the Gym. Pretty much every muscle in my body felt stretched, squeezed and exercised to (and beyond) the limits.

Why does this happen? Once it was thought it was caused by a build up of lactic acid, but that isn’t the full picture. Although the cause isn’t known for certain it’s widely accepted that it is a combination of mechanical and chemical stress. Mechanical stress from stretching and exertion causes micro damage to the muscle fibres. Chemical stress is caused by a combination of chemical products that build up in muscles when they are working beyond the usual level. There is also some evidence that inflammation does not cause the pain felt, and is actually a response to the damage. The inflammatory response is the body’s way of tackling damage, and can actually prevent the next bout of DOMS from being so bad. For more detail click here for a super website by Paul Ingraham all about pain.

Eccentric contractions cause worse DOMS than concentric contractions. Maybe the lengthening of the fibres causes more damage? Purely my conjecture…

Is there a cure? In essence – NO! Time is the only true and proven healer. Although NSAIDs (non steroidal anti-inflammatories) may help a bit with pain reduction they do not actually change the rate of healing. And they definitely cannot prevent DOMS, so there is no point in taking them before a run or exercise session in the hope of being able to step lightly down the stairs the day after running a marathon! In fact Paul Ingraham writes that ibuprofen can make the inflammation worse, even though many runners and athletes swear by them prior to exercise.

Massage therapy may possibly make you feel a bit better at the time, although very deep tissue massage may actually make it worse. And interestingly neurology plays a part too – nerves can carry the pain from the stressed muscles to other areas around it, which means that some people are going to feel more pain than others. Which feels a bit unfair somehow!

This (admittedly short) post has taken a long time to write. Mostly it’s because I have been feeling very tired! After the last run I’ve had a couple of busy weeks at work, and also I just haven’t felt quite my usual energetic self 😉. I have to remind myself sometimes that REST is important! Muscles need recovery time. Good food, good sleep and some relaxation is really important to prevent total burn out and subsequent illness.

Looking out from the cliffs with Port Isaac in the distance.

Today I am feeling good again. I walked 10 miles (16km) along the beautiful Cornish coast path between Port Isaac and Tintagel. It’s hilly! But the views are fantastic. I expect tomorrow my calf muscles and Achilles’ tendons will be complaining, but I don’t care!

There were a lot of ups and downs!

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