Nothing can ruin your enthusiasm for a new workout program faster than the pain and stiffness that sneaks up on you the day after. This delayed reaction from your muscles, known as DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), has affected almost all of us at one time or another. While there is no sure-fire cure or prevention for DOMS, here are a few tips to help reduce your symptoms next time you hit the gym
Understand what it is
DOMS is thought to be a result of micro tears in muscle tissue during eccentric exercises in particular. While DOMS is not a sign of a serious injury and usually goes away on its own within 48 hours, it can be very uncomfortable and a deterrent to continue exercising. It can also leave you at a higher risk of injury, and for athletes who are competing in a tournament and need to recover quickly, DOMS can be particularly problematic.
Warm-up and cool-down
By taking the time to let your muscles warm-up, your muscles can operate at optimum flexibility, reducing the tension on muscle tissue during exercise. A cool-down encourages effective blood flow to muscles after exercise, so that any waste products such as lactic acid and calcium can flow back into the bloodstream rather than staying in the muscle tissues.
Get a massage or use a foam roller
By massaging tight and sensitive muscles, you can improve blood flow, promote tissue healing and reduce pain. Both massage and foam rolling can help to relax tight muscles and enhance tissue recovery in the first 24-48 hours after exercise.
Keeping hydrated allows your body to remove waste, stay flexible, and help tissues heal optimally. The trick is to maintain hydration throughout your day, not just when it's time to exercise. It's also essential not to wait until you are thirsty, as you could already be dehydrated at this point.
Other ideas includes gentle exercise such as 20 minutes on a stationary bike, and mild stretching. If you are particularly brave, ice baths have recently been shown to have mild benefits in pain reduction following intense exercise.
What Are They?
Trigger points are what are often thought of as muscle "knots" and can feel like painful, hard lumps located in your muscles. These points can both be painful to touch and refer pain to surrounding areas. It is thought that trigger points form when a portion of muscle contracts abnormally, compressing the blood supply to this area, which in turn causes this part of the muscle to become extra sensitive. Trigger points are a common source of pain around the neck, shoulders, hips and lower back.
What Causes Trigger Points?
Many factors can cause trigger points to develop. Repetitive stress, injuries, overuse and excessive loads are common examples. Inflammation, stress, nutritional deficiencies and prolonged unhealthy postures may also contribute to the formation of these painful areas. Generally speaking, muscular overload, where the demands placed on the muscle mean that the fibres are unable to function optimally, is thought to be the primary cause of trigger points. This is why you might notice trigger points in weaker muscles or after starting a new training program.
Signs and Symptoms
Pain caused by trigger points can often be mistaken for joint or nerve-related pain as it can be felt in a different location to the site of the trigger point. Trigger points feel like hard lumps in the muscles and may cause tightness, heaviness, aching pain and general discomfort. They can cause the length of the affected tissues to shorten, which may be why trigger points can increase the symptoms of arthritis, tennis elbow, tendonitis and bursitis.
How Can Physiotherapy Help?
Your physiotherapist will first assess and diagnose whether trigger points are contributing to your pain. If they feel that treatment will be beneficial, there are a variety of techniques that can help, including dry needling, manual therapy, electrical stimulation, mechanical vibration, stretching and strengthening exercises. While these techniques may be effective in treating trigger points, it is important to address any biomechanical faults that contribute to their development so they don't keep recurring.
Your physiotherapist is able to identify causative factors such as poor training technique, posture and biomechanics and will prescribe an exercise program to address any muscle weaknesses and imbalances. If you have any questions about how trigger points might be affecting you, don’t hesitate to ask your physiotherapist.