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How to reduce DOMS with massage therapy

So you've hit the gym hard, conquered those weights, and now? Ah, the dreaded aches – also known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). The badge of honour worn by many fitness enthusiasts. But should it be?

Post-workout aches are pretty common, but they shouldn’t be so painful that you have to slam the breaks on your weekly routine. They’re also not a sign that your workout is, well, working… (more on that later).

Don’t want to let DOMS get in the way of your new regime? We’ve crammed a ton of expert advice into this guide to help you understand what DOMS is and how to manage it.


DOMS is a reaction to high intensity workouts

First off, what causes delayed onset muscle soreness? It’s a type of pain you’ll usually notice after an intense workout. When you’ve introduced a new workout or gone a bit too hard on the weights, your muscle tissues can temporarily suffer with micro-tears. In response, your body increases inflammation to help your tissues repair which causes that achy feeling.

Delayed muscle soreness can last between two to four days

Post-workout aches typically kick in within 24 to 72 hours after you exercise and can sometimes last up to a week, depending on the intensity of the tears and your recovery process. So the better your recovery routine, the quicker you can get back to the gym. Now you’re listening.

Signs you have DOMS

If you’ve done a workout and feel these symptoms between two to four days afterwards, it’s likely you’ve joined the DOMS club:

  • Your muscles feel sore when you stretch, causing them to tense up

  • They feel sensitive to touch

  • They feel stiff when you try to move them

  • Can't straighten arm after gym

  • Muscle swelling

  • You don’t have as much strength in your muscles

Is DOMS a sign of muscle growth?

Feeling sore after a workout doesn't necessarily mean your muscles are growing. It's more likely a sign that your muscles are adjusting to a new exercise or pushing beyond their usual limits.

As you continue with these workouts, your body gets used to them, and the soreness (DOMS) becomes less frequent. However, the absence of soreness doesn't mean your muscles aren't growing. Consistent exercise over time leads to muscle growth and improved muscle definition. But don’t think that you have to suffer with aches the next day to prove you’re making progress.

Sports massage for sciatica demonstrated on client

How to reduce DOMS – methods for muscle recovery

Massage therapy is one of the most well known ways to improve DOMS, but there’s also lots you can do on your own to get back to your best. Pairing massage with other methods creates a powerhouse recovery routine, pressing fast-forward on your return to pain-free bliss.

1. Foam-rolling

Not got the funds this month for an at-home treatment? Self-massage and foam rolling can act as great alternatives. Use a foam roller to gently roll over tender spots to ease any muscle tension and soreness.

2. Light exercise

To avoid tightening your muscles further, keep the body moving through light exercises or stretches. This will help keep the blood flowing and will help with your recovery. 

3. Hydration and nutrition

Your muscles are going through a lot at this time and they need the right fuel to repair themselves. Stay hydrated with lots of water and eat nourishing, protein-rich meals to support them.

4. A warm bath

The warmth will help your muscles relax, calm your nervous system and increase blood circulation, all of which helps with healing.

5. Massage therapy

This study found that massage had a significant effect on alleviating muscle soreness and reducing swelling. Specific massage techniques like effleurage (long, sweeping strokes), petrissage (kneading), and myofascial release (targeting connective tissues) are all incredibly effective in post-workout soreness relief.


Massage can reduce soreness by 30% - here's how

Specific massage techniques can help relieve DOMS – here's what they do and which Urban treatments offer these recovery techniques: 

Effleurage increases blood flow to help with muscle repair

This is a well known technique that’s used in most massages and involves long, sweeping strokes over the skin in a rhythmic manner. It triggers the receptors in your body that dilates your blood vessels, which improves the circulation of blood. With more blood pumping around, your sore muscles will get a better flow of oxygen and nutrients – this helps them recover quicker.

It also removes waste products like lactic acid which helps reduce soreness and improves muscle repair.

Features in these Urban treatments

Petrissage untangles knots to reduce tension

Petrissage involves kneading and squeezing the muscle tissues to help break down knots or adhesions in the muscles. By targeting deeper into the muscle layers, petrissage releases built-up tension which helps the muscles relax and, in turn, can ease DOMS-related discomfort.

It’s a technique that’s useful for both pre and post workout, so it’s ideal for both preventing and recovering from sport-related injuries.

Features in these Urban treatments:

Passive stretching with a therapist can help ease sciatica

Myofascial release eases muscle tension

Similar to trigger point therapy, myofascial release also treats tight muscles. But this technique focuses more on the fascia, the connective tissue that surrounds muscles. It’s a bit less intense than trigger point therapy as it focuses on a larger area of muscle, not just your knots specifically. 

By applying pressure and using gentle stretching, your therapist will find tight areas around your muscle to release any tension. This will help with restoring flexibility and can provide pain relief from DOMS.

Features in these Urban treatments:

Cross-fibre friction specifically targets damaged scar tissue

Cross-fibre friction is a deep, oil-less technique that focuses solely on damaged scar tissue. Your therapist will use a thumb or finger to move directly over the exact area of the lesion for only three to five minutes to help break down scar tissue that could be a result of intense exercise. 

By breaking the scar tissue down, it helps it restore into a more flexible, healthy and soft tissue, restoring normal muscle function. This will ease your DOMS by speeding up recovery time.

Features in these Urban treatments:

Stretching techniques help get your flexibility back

Your pro may also include stretching during your injury recovery sessions. This involves gentle stretches guided by your therapist to relieve any tightness, easing your pain.

But you might be thinking – I can stretch alone without the need for a therapist. Well, that’s true. But without an expert on hand, you won’t be able to reach your deepest stretch, and they’ll use their expertise to work out exactly where you need to be stretched. They’ll adapt the stretches to your specific pain points.

Features in these Urban treatments:

What to expect after a massage treatment for muscle pain

During a post-workout massage, you can expect a mixture of pain relief and tenderness. You may feel slightly sore during the session but this will fade as your muscles experience the healing benefits.

To get the most out of your sessions, aim to book a massage 24 to 48 hours post-exercise to avoid DOMS.


How to prevent DOMS

It can be hard to completely prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), especially if you're new to working out or you're trying new exercises. But there are a few things you can do to minimise its intensity:

  1. Gradual progression: Slowly increase the strength and duration of your workouts. Sudden, high-intensity workouts can easily cause DOMS, so allow your body to adapt gradually.

  2. Warm-up and cool down: Proper warm-up and cool-down routines can help your muscles prepare for exercise to help with recovery. Dynamic stretching before and static stretching after can be helpful.

  3. Hydration: Staying hydrated is crucial for helping muscle function and recovery.

  4. Protein intake: Protein is key for helping muscles repair and grow so make sure you're eating enough protein, especially after intense workouts.

  5. Balanced nutrition: You should also prioritise eating a diet that's full of nutrients, vitamins and minerals to help with muscle recovery.

  6. Rest: To let your muscles recover, give them enough time between workouts. Overtraining is likely to give you DOMS, so give yourself rest days to help your muscles repair.

  7. Foam rolling and stretching: Add foam rolling and gentle stretching into your post-workout routine. This can help with muscle tightness and improve flexibility.

  8. Anti-Inflammatory measures: Things like ice packs, warm baths and massage can help reduce inflammation and alleviate soreness.

Should you train with muscle soreness?

Working out with DOMS, is it a good idea? It mainly depends on how bad your soreness is. Here's what to consider:

  1. Mild soreness: If your DOMS are mild and they don't significantly stop your daily activities, a light workout should be fine.

  2. Moderate to severe soreness: If you find it difficult to move, it's a sign that your muscles need more time to recover. Pushing through severe soreness could make it worse.

  3. Listen to your body: Pay attention to how your body feels. If you're feeling tired, overly sore, or notice any signs of overtraining, you need to prioritise rest and recovery.

  4. Modify your workouts: Consider changing up your workouts or focus on different muscle groups that aren't as sore. That way you can stay active without making your pain worse.

  5. Active recovery: You can still do activities that promote blood flow to help with recovery like walking, stretching, or low-intensity exercises. These can help with muscle stiffness.

Get recovery right with a qualified therapist

You might not always be able to avoid getting DOMS (in an ideal world, you’d always have the time and the money to squeeze in a post-workout massage), but armed with the right recovery regime you can be back on the mat in no time.

Easing DOMS can be hassle-free, without having to leave home – simply pre-book your recovery treatments to prevent DOMS stopping leg day again.

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