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Gyms were closed a long time during the pandemic.
People are finally getting back to their former workout habits — and now have the sore muscles to show for it.
A recent article on delayed-onset muscle soreness — or DOMS — in the Washington Post helps explain that this type of seemingly simple post-exercise muscle strain actually involves a complex reaction and muscle adaptation.
DOMS is a normal process of muscle adaptation; the pain shows up 24-72 hours after the workout.
DOMS happens when the muscle is engaged in a lengthening or contracting; the Post gives the example of lowering the weight in a bicep curl.
Muscle soreness usually doesn’t happen during the shortening movement.
If you do something the muscles aren’t used to, microscopic tears happen in the muscle fibre membrane. This prompts a chemical chain reaction, the Post reported, “including dysregulated fiber contractions, an influx of immune cells, and swelling and pressure buildup.”
The end result is a repair process that actually uses inflammation to help strengthen and regenerate the muscle.
It’s useful to know about this going in, so you can take care not to overdo it. If you do get aches and pains following a workout, you’ll know it’s normal and not a reason to give up exercising.
One way to avoid pain is to get back into regular workouts slowly and progress to your former level over time. Book-end your workout with warm-up and cool-down stretches.
But if you do wind up with DOMS, what to do?
The natural response might be to ice the muscles or take a pain reliever, but specialists no longer advise either — DOMS involves repair and muscle building, and it’s best not to get in the way of the process.
Foam rolling or massage are a better choice.
And you need to take time to recover. You should keep moving, but do alternative exercises and give the affected muscles a break until the soreness is gone in a few days.
A new study done in Japan and reported on in the New York Times tested the no-icing theory with lab mice.
Researches discovered that muscles left alone after being over-exercised repaired and recovered themselves with the help of pro-inflammatory cells — and much faster than muscles that were iced. Even after two weeks, the iced muscles showed lingering molecular signs of tissue damage and incomplete healing.
“Icing retards healthy inflammatory responses,” said Takamitsu Arakawa, a professor of medicine at Kobe University Graduate School of Health Sciences. He oversaw the study.
As for Tylenol/Advil/Aleve: forget it. There are umpteen studies that show how over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) get in the way of natural processes by reducing inflammation.
A study published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, explained the role of Prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) as a crucial inflammatory mediator of muscle stem cells, the building blocks of muscle regeneration.
And it states that NSAIDs, commonly used to treat pain after muscle injury, “inhibit PGE2 synthesis, hinder muscle regeneration, and lead to weakened muscles.”
NSAIDs may even be implicated in chronic pain, according to a new Canadian study on the role of inflammation in healing reported in Science Translational Medicine.
“General muscle soreness from strength training is just treated by time,” said Kurt Luczak, owner of fitness training facility F45 Ossington in Toronto.
“And making funny sounds when you walk up and down stairs,” he joked.