May 11, 2016

5 Ways to Reduce Muscle Soreness

General Health
Physical therapist working on a patient's knee

knee-injuryThe weather is turning for the better, and more and more people are beginning a new exercise program to jump start their summer health goals! Whether you are just starting to work out or have been working out for years, muscle soreness is a common part of the process. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) happens when a person does a workout that is out of the body is unaccustomed to.  The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) concludes that DOMS is the side effect of the repair process muscles go through after microscopic trauma to the muscles after exercise.  As a physical therapist and one who enjoys staying active, I know that muscle soreness can be both limiting and stressful. If you’re looking to change your exercise regimen or are challenging your body to progress in your workouts, remember to always take care and caution when protecting your muscles.

Here are 5 ways to prevent and reduce Muscle Soreness:

  1. The first is take on a slow gradual change in activity. If you are just beginning to start exercising, doing a preliminary assessment is important to establish your level of fitness.  This assessment could be a three minute timed stepped test or time to walk or run one mile. This will help you establish a plan that will not traumatize your system and help reduce your risk of DOMS.  If you’re a seasoned athlete you can still get DOMS.  Dramatic changes in activity and intensity will lead to DOMS.  It is best to make small changes in mileage such as, one to two mile increases per week to help minimize the DOMS.
  2. The second is to incorporate stretching into your exercise routine. ACSM recommends a warm-up of the muscles with a dynamic warm up which includes a brief aerobic activity for three and five minutes, followed by active stretching of the large muscle groups for the upper body, lower body and the trunk.  Examples of this can include but aren’t limited to heel and toe walking, squatting, arm circles and trunk twists.  The activity is then performed followed by static stretching at the end of the activity.

Once the soreness happens there are ways to decrease the pain:

  1. Icing the involved area for 20 minutes several times a day will help decrease the swelling in the muscles and the pain.
  2. Massaging the muscle with your hands or using a foam roller to roll over the involved muscles will help soften the tight muscles and help decrease the muscle swelling.
  3. Oral pain relief (Ibuprofen can help decrease the pain.  It should be noted these tips help with pain and swelling in the affected areas but do not change the microscopic trauma in the muscles. Depending on the severity of soreness, time to heal is best when DOMS occurs.

One common misconception about DOMS is that it is due to lactic acid accumulation, but lactic acid is not a component of this process. DOMS typically occurs 12-24 hours after activity, but can intensify 24-72 hours after the activity as well. It is the bodies response to being overworked and is different from an acute soreness, which is pain during the activity. If symptoms persist for more than a week or intensify to one specific spot versus generalized discomfort a visit to a health care provider is indicated.

Our staff of Physical Therapists and Athletic Trainers can help you get your program started or help you recover if you symptoms have gotten out of control. 

Through our Orthopaedic Associates and the Therapy & Sport Center, Fort HealthCare’s Sports Medicine program provides comprehensive care from diagnosis to surgical or non-surgical treatment and rehabilitation. Our interdisciplinary team is made up of four orthopedic surgeons and six athletic trainers. Dr. Paul Schuppner, an orthopedic surgeon, completed a fellowship in sports medicine and is one of two in Jefferson County. The team works with you to develop treatment that is patient-centered and focused on maximizing your participation in the sport and physical activities you love.