Athletes know the feeling: muscle stiffness and soreness that sneaks up on the body 24 hours or more after a rigorous workout, an endurance run or the first day back swimming laps or skiing. Any time athletes accelerate the intensity of a workout or compete at a higher level, this delayed discomfort can interrupt their progress toward new fitness goals.
Sports medicine professionals call this delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Athletes can find DOMS frustrating because even simple movements like walking down stairs can be an ordeal – and reaching the next fitness level can also be delayed.
The culprit for delayed muscle soreness is not, as some people used to think, the buildup of lactic acid, a byproduct of exercise that dissipates from the muscle tissues within an hour. Shortly after an athlete stops exercising, that kind of burn goes away.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), DOMS typically begins to develop 12-24 hours after exercise and may produce the greatest pain between 24-72 hours after that exercise. Most sports medicine pros believe this soreness develops as a result of microscopic damage or tears to muscle fibers involved in tough workouts or competition.
One of the best ways to reduce the risk of DOMS is to progress slowly in a new program. A thorough warmup is also important in preparing the muscle for the types of forces that may cause damage – but it is unlikely that a hardworking athlete can entirely avoid DOMS.
What is the best strategy for minimizing DOMS and speeding recovery on a long-term basis? While common ways to treat DOMS include foam rolling, contrast showers (alternating between hot and cold water), Epsom salt baths, increased protein intake (to increase protein synthesis) and sleep, there are no proven ways to prevent DOMS from happening in the first place.
The good news is that as these microscopic tears repair themselves, they prepare the muscles to handle the same type of exercise better the next time. Pre-workout and competition supplementation with the oral, liquid hyaluronic acid in Play Again has proven effective for many athletes in shortening recovery time, allowing dedicated, active people to continue to set and achieve new personal bests.