When you start a new training, or train intense, your muscles are in pain. There are techniques to relieve muscle soreness and improve muscle recovery
In this post, we'll go through a brief introduction of muscle soreness to discuss different techniques you can try to relieve muscle soreness.
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Muscle soreness, also called DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), is a side consequence of intense exercise (source). This muscle pain starts 24-48h after your workout, staying up to 72h (study).
Due to the intense exercise, the muscle fibres suffer very small breaks called microtraumas. These microbreaks will compromise the function of your muscle temporally. Thus, muscle soreness leads to stiffness and pain in our muscles.
In the control group (right picture), all sarcomeres are aligned and parallel one to the other. In the exercised group (left picture), we can oberve damaged muscle fibres. The alignment in this case is very much deteriorated (source)
Mechanisms of Muscle Soreness
To date, the mechanisms underlying muscle soreness are quite unknown. However, science is trying to solve the enigma proposing different theories that seem to be possible solutions.
Theory 1: Microscopic Lessions
Back in 1902, Theodore Hough described muscle soreness (DOMS) as the consequence of microscopic ruptures in the muscle fibres (study). Excess muscle tension could compromise the muscle, causing the actin-myosin bridges to separate before relaxation. This leads to greater tension of the still active motor units, and stimulation of nociceptors (pain receptors) (study)
In simple words, the excess muscle tension causes some bridges to break, and the still active fibres have to do more work. The nociceptors recieve this signal to cause muscle pain.
Theory 2: Enzyme Efflux and Inflammation
When the microruptures happen, calcium accumulates in the muscle sarcoplasma. Accumulation of calcium inhibits aerobic respiration and ATP production (study), and activates enzymes reponsible for breaking down muscle protein (study).
The muscle protein degradation causes inflammation, one of the most likely mechanisms of muscle soreness (study)
Theory 3: Nerves Inflammation
The nerves connecting the muscle and the nervous sytem suffer in a similar manner than our muscle fibres do.
These traumatized nerves lead to the production of nerve growth factor (NGF) and other restorative compounds, which then sensitize the injured nerve endings (study)
What Causes Muscle Soreness?
Muscle soreness is a multifactorial phenomenum. It's caused by intense exercise, but there are certain factors within exercise that worsens muscle soreness.
Exposure to a new exercise, high intensities, high impact exercise, or eccentric loading are the most relevant causes of muscle soreness (study)(study)
Techniques to Reduce Muscle Soreness and Improve Recovery
Muscle soreness is sometimes unavoidable. If you want to build muscle and/or progress in your respective sport discipline, one must take their body to the limits. And muscle soreness is a consequence of that.
However, there are techniquesto improve muscle recovery. In the next 3min, we'll go through the best and most effective techniques to reduce muscle soreness.
*SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM TO FIND OUT THE BEST TECHNIQUE TO REDUCE MUSCLE SORENESS!!
I'm sure you've heard a lot of times things like: "If you are sore, train and it'll go away".
Whoever told you that was in fact right. The worst you can do to try reduce muscle soreness is stay on the couch all day. Active recovery has shown to be effective at lowering DOMS (study). Doing moderate aerobic exercise the day after your training can help you recovery for the next session.
In this systematic review (Feb 2022), it was shown how active recovery could alleviate muscle soreness, prevent loss of muscle strength, improve flexibility, and decrease inflammation.
Topical Analgesics are products used to reduce internal pain and systemic side effects. However, they also show to alleviate muscle soreness (study)
Specially menthol topical analgesics seem to be effective at reducing muscle soreness. Menthol is a counterirritant, an causes the skin to feel cold and then warm. That sudden change can distract you from feeling pain (study)
Contrast Water Therapy
Contrast water therapy improves both muscle soreness and weakness when compared to a normal resting day (systematic review). However, the difference is quite small, and I'd only recommended for elite athletes.
Honestly, going through a very cold shower is not the most comfortable experience, and there are other techniques out there more effective at reducing muscle soreness. But if you do enjoy it and it works, the evidence is there!
Either through diet or supplementation, taking antiinflamatory foods can help reducing muscle soreness. The compounds with strongest antiinflamatory effect (to date) are:
Eating fatty fish, plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats can also help you reduce muscle soreness and improve inflammation (study)
To finish with this list, the cherry on the top. Getting a massage is the most effective way to reduce muscle soreness (study). Compared to other recovery techniques, massage showed a signficant decrease in all inflammation markers.
Massage improves blood and lymph flow on the sore muscle (study). That decreases the percieved fatigue and decreases levels of c-reactive protein and creatine kinases, two of the strongest inflammation markers.
Getting a massage post-exercise can therefore help you reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery for next session. However, getting a massage after every single training is not realistic.
What you can do is try self-massage reachable body parts (calves, thighs, arms, shoulders,...). Alternatively, you could use a foam roller and pass it through the worked muscles to reduce muscle soreness (study)
Muscle soreness is a consequence we often can't avoid. It's cause by intense exercise, eccentric loading, or exposure to new exercises.
Even though it's sometime unavoidable, there are several techniques you can use to reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery. In this post, we've gone through the best and most effective techniques to reduce muscle soreness.