No pain, no gain is a phrase we’ve all heard. It is typically, though not exclusively, used in relation to physical activity. This week we will define what that “pain” is when you exercise, what causes it, how to deal with it, and why I am not (necessarily) a believer.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the discomfort most often resulting from exercise. It’s something we’ve all experienced and can be caused by just about any activity we are unaccustomed to. DOMS typically begins to develop 12-24 hours after the activity has been performed and may produce the greatest discomfort between 24 and 72 hours after. It is believed that DOMS develops as a result of microscopic damage to the muscle tissue and its accompanying inflammation. The soreness is a side effect of the tissue repair process.
The activities that cause DOMS most often and to the greatest extent are those that place force on muscles as they lengthen. Walking down stairs is a perfect example. The greatest muscular forces developed during this activity are in the front of the thigh (quadriceps muscles) while they act as a brake against your body’s momentum. The severity of the soreness directly correlates with the severity of the damage done to the muscle. So, walking down a flight of stairs will cause less damage (and soreness) than walking down from the 20th floor.
Treatment strategies for DOMS are matters of debate, but some are supported by research. Using active recovery is one; performing easy, low-impact aerobic exercise increases blood flow and is linked with decreased soreness. There is growing support that Yoga reduces DOMS. A complete warm-up before tackling exercise you are unaccustomed to can produce small reductions in muscle soreness. Things that may be worth a try are: sports massage, ice baths, gentle stretching, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine (e.g., aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen sodium).
A thorough warm-up is also a prevention tactic. However, THE most important method of prevention is to ease into any new exercise program. While it is certain that we live in an instant gratification culture, it must be understood that an exercise program should be about the long haul. Our commitment level must be there from day one, but the program we follow must start at low levels and increase in intensity over time. I tell individuals in Wellness Center orientation that I can make them so sore on the first day that they wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning. Then I ask, “But what good would that do?” None. They would be no closer to achieving their goals while at the same time cursing me and the Wellness Center.
Now, any discussion about soreness would not be complete without mentioning that there is a difference between discomfort and pain … and this is where I step off the bandwagon. That dull, aching, soreness in the muscle that results from working too hard or doing something new is discomfort. As stated earlier, greater microscopic damage to muscle tissue is accompanied by greater soreness, but it is still “only” soreness. This is a good thing, and what we can expect out of our exercise program. It means that our muscles are adapting to new stimulus. Pain is something else entirely. An instant stinging or stabbing twinge in a muscle or joint is a sign the something may be wrong. An occurrence of acute pain means that it is time to pause and assess the situation.
While we may not “seek out” soreness, it will be a byproduct of our exercise program. It means that we are pushing our bodies outside of its comfort zone and adapting to new things. So, while a more apt catchphrase might be, “no soreness, no gain”, that just wouldn’t rhyme now would it?
The JRMC Wellness Centers, located in Pine Bluff and White Hall, offer a variety of fitness options for all ages and interests. Free weights, machines, cardio equipment, personal trainers and a full schedule of Les Mills classes are available at both facilities. For more information call the Pine Bluff (541-7890) or White Hall (850-8000) facility.