Defeating the dreaded DOMS

Defeating the dreaded DOMS

November 25, 2019

Defeating the dreaded DOMS

Everyone knows the feeling; it’s the day after a big strength workout and even things like walking down the stairs or putting your socks on make you grimace. This phenomenon is known as delayed-onset muscle soreness – or DOMS as most will refer to it. In simple terms, exercising causes microscopic tears in muscle fibres, the reparation of which is what causes muscle growth. DOMS are caused by inflammation around the sites of these tears whilst they are repaired – this elicits the familiar feelings of stiffness and soreness following exercise. Whilst it is not possible to prevent DOMS entirely, here are a couple of interesting methods that have been shown to effectively reduce the symptoms.

Compression TherapyDefeating the DOMS

If you follow any of your favourite athletes on social media – you may have seen them posting pictures of their legs in bulky balloon-like casings, this is because they are employing compression therapy in their recovery. Recent research has shown that the use of compression garments post-exercise, for up to 96hrs, can improve muscle recovery and alleviate symptoms of DOMS [1], a finding which is supported by a 2017 meta-analysis from Brown et al [2].

The theory behind these effects are based on augmenting muscle blood-flow following exercise (when the blood flow would normally decrease), allowing for better removal of exercise by-products and resupplying of oxygen and glycogen to fatigued muscles [3]. Unfortunately, there is not yet a clear consensus on time, type or tightness required for compression therapy so it comes down to the personal preferences of the individual [4]. However, as a relatively cheap and accessible strategy, it is probably worth giving it a go!

Cold-water Immersion

AKA the good old-fashioned ice bath! This strategy has been in use for decades, so you’d be forgiven for thinking it was more of a myth than an evidence-based recovery protocol. Nevertheless, research has shown that immersion in cold water (below 15C [5]) following exercise improvers biomarkers of muscle damage, sensations of pain and overall muscle recovery [6] and therefore, unsurprisingly, this strategy is adopted by sport scientists and athletes worldwide.

The cold temperatures in which the immersion occurs elicits peripheral vasoconstriction (shrinking and narrowing of the blood vessels) which subsequently reduces inflammation and swelling at the site of muscle damage [7]. A systematic review of cold-water immersion research concluded that the optimal immersion time is between 11-15 minutes [8] – if you can last that long…

Again, this strategy is cheap, simple and easily accessible and as such, is worth a try – just make sure you put your towel on the radiator for afterwards!


  1. Hettchen, M., et al., Effects of Compression Tights on Recovery Parameters after Exercise Induced Muscle Damage: A Randomized Controlled Crossover Study. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, 2019. 2019: p. 5698460.
  2. Brown, F., et al., Compression Garments and Recovery from Exercise: A Meta-Analysis. Sports Med, 2017. 47(11): p. 2245-2267.
  3. Hamlin, M.J., et al., Effect of compression garments on short-term recovery of repeated sprint and 3-km running performance in rugby union players. J Strength Cond Res, 2012. 26(11): p. 2975-82.
  4. Heiss, R., et al., Advances in Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) – Part II: Treatment and Prevention. Sportverletz Sportschaden, 2019. 33(1): p. 21-29.
  5. Bleakley, C., et al., Cold-water immersion (cryotherapy) for preventing and treating muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2012(2): p. CD008262.
  6. Hohenauer, E., et al., The Effect of Post-Exercise Cryotherapy on Recovery Characteristics: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS One, 2015. 10(9): p. e0139028.
  7. Gregson, W., et al., Influence of cold water immersion on limb and cutaneous blood flow at rest. Am J Sports Med, 2011. 39(6): p. 1316-23.
  8. Machado, A.F., et al., Can Water Temperature and Immersion Time Influence the Effect of Cold Water Immersion on Muscle Soreness? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med, 2016. 46(4): p. 503-14.

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