Can you reduce delayed onset muscle soreness?
Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is the scientific term to use when you experience muscle soreness following a new or unaccustomed workout with eccentric muscle actions, where eccentric muscle actions are those where the muscle lengthens under load; for example, the downward movement in a bicep curl.
Specifically, you will notice that tenderness or stiffness with movement becomes progressively more apparent in the 24-48 hour mark following an exercise session, with more extended periods of 72 hours also frequently reported (1).
DOMS has particular relevance to those just getting into a strength training routine or those who haven't been physically active for some time because their bodies are not used to the stressors strength training delivers. Therefore, the side effects will be among the highest for this population.
With this in mind, I researched and wrote this post to determine if there are any methods one can use to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness.
Methods for Reducing Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
Many methods have been used to help alleviate and reduce muscle soreness, but do these practices hold up under scientific scrutiny? A review paper published in the sports medicine journal thoroughly reviewed the most common methods, such as cryotherapy and anti-inflammatory drugs, which I've expanded on below.
1) Cryotherapy (cold treatment)
Studies have shown little or no reduction in muscle soreness or the improvement of its condition post application.
What it is
Cryotherapy is the practice of applying ice or cold substances to the skin in an effort to increase blood flow and reduce swelling while temporarily alternating intramuscular and joint temperatures. Some common methods are ice packs, ice baths and other cold immersion strategies.
The review cites a study conducted by PaddonJones and Quigely, who, after an exercise session, placed one arm in five 20-minute ice water immersions. The results between the submerged and unsubmerged arm resulted in no significant differences in muscle soreness and strength in the arms post-recovery and the following 48 hours post-exercise (1).
Stretching has no preventative effect on the sensation of muscle soreness.
What it is
Stretching, or more specifically, in the case of the supporting evidence, static stretching is holding a muscle in a set position for a period of time. It's somewhat surprising to learn that static stretching, when done intensely (> 60-second holds and multiple sets), has been shown to produce DOMS on its own!
Most studies investigating the effects of stretching before or after exercise have shown no preventative impact on the sensations of DOMS (1).
3) Anti-inflammatory drugs
Anti-inflammatory drugs are effective in relieving symptoms but not performance decreases associated with DOMS. Large doses can negatively influence muscle repair times.