Monday, 24 September 2012

Massage and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

What is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness?

Many people who exercise regularly experience a condition known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, otherwise known as DOMS. This can present as a generally stiffness in the muscle groups that have been exercised and can range in severity from a mild dull ache to a painful stiffness that restricts movement. It often presents within 12-24 hours after exercising, but it is not uncommon for some people to experience it's commencement up to 48 hours after exercising. Ideally it should last no longer than 24 hours, and if it does it is an indication of lack of muscular fitness and/or overwork. Many rumours exist about DOMS, and this Blog aims at clarifying some of the misconceptions that have grown around the condition.
The most common myth regarding DOMS is that it is caused by lactic acid. While exercise does produce lactic acid as a by-product, the acid is normally reabsorbed by the body within 30 minutes and used as an additional anaerobic energy source. Therefore, the lactic acid found in the muscles has been reabsorbed by the body long before DOMS begins to set in.
The Real Causes
The real cause of DOMS is quite simply the damage of microfibers in the muscle tissue. Each muscle fibre is made of discrete segments that operate in different ways to allow the muscle as a whole to function. At each end each fibre is an area known as the Z-line which are drawn together as the fibre contracts and then move apart as the fibre contracts. As we exercise, the Z-lines are placed under stress, and with continued stress them become damaged and move out of line. This is seen as an injury by the body, which quickly responds with by activating the immune system in a healing response. The ultimate result of that is a swelling in the areas of perceived damage which, once it reaches a threshold that is different for each individual, results in a sensation of pain in the area affected.
While this may sound alarming, it is in fact a natural response to exercise and is the primary reason why our muscles adapt and get bigger through exercise, in an attempt to protect the Z-lines and prevent such damage from occurring in the future. A small amount of DOMS is always desirable, because it is a sign that we have damaged our muscles enough to induce an adaptive response. Too much pain though, can be disruptive and cause some distress.
Can Anything Be Done About DOMS?
There are several things that can be done to prevent or reduce DOMS, most of which are best performed within a few hours of exercise. The easiest method of reducing DOMS is to have a cold shower immediately following exercise. This has the effect of drawing blood away from the extremities and into the torso, reducing the amount of fluid available to create any swelling around the areas damaged. A similar result can be achieved by applying ice to the areas worked for 10 minutes, and then removing it for 20 minutes before reapplying.
What About Massage?
Similarly, massage has been shown to produce excellent results in relieving DOMS. Massaging the areas worked allow the manual movement of fluids within the body, therefore reducing swelling in the injured areas. This also facilitates in the removal of the natural toxins produced by the breakdown of muscle fibre, leading to the body creating a less aggressive healing response. Furthermore, massage has been shown to assist in re-aligning the Z-lines in muscle fibres, which in itself not only assists in the reducing the amount of DOMS experiences, but allows the natural adaptive process to precede unhindered.
While the best time to receive a massage after exercise is within 15 minutes of conclusion, massage applied even 24 hours after the cessation of the exercise has been shown to provide some benefit in the recovery process.
The Author
Darren Bulmer is an Australian remedial massage therapist and fitness specialist who has been active in his field since 2006. For more information regarding him, his remedial massage clinic, articles, and blogs, visit his webiste at
For more information regarding Darren Bulmer and his remedial massage clinic, Open Hands Massage, visit his website at
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