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What are DOMS? How can you recover from them? And the science behind cryotherapy

Impact: Educational Impacts (beyond UoP)


THAT DULL, ACHY feeling you get a day after a hard gym session, there’s a scientific word for that, you know? Actually, it’s four words. ‘Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness’, or DOMS as they’re better known, describes the muscular pain, tenderness and stiffness experienced after high-intensity, eccentric (when the muscle is forcibly stretched when active) or unaccustomed exercise. DOMS typically peak 24 to 96 hours post-exercise and may reduce subsequent athletic performance via alterations in muscle power and strength. But here are three ways you can reduce DOMS and their debilitating effects. 1. Whole body cryotherapy “Elite and recreational athletes are taking athletic recovery to the extreme by using a relatively new modality of recovery called Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC),” explains Irishman Joe Costello, now working in the University of Portsmouth Sports and Exercise Science department. “WBC typically involves repeated exposures to extremely cold air, typically -110°C, in an environmentally controlled room for a short duration of time (two to four minutes). At -110°C WBC exposes individuals to temperatures which are colder than any temperature ever experienced or recorded on earth. “Originating in Japan in the 1970s, WBC was initially intended as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. Over the last decade the treatment has been employed by elite athletes, such as the Irish Rugby team, the British and Irish Lions, Bayern Munich, Tottenham Hotspur, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Lakers players, as a modality of recovery following exercise or tissue injury. Reductions in muscle and skin tissue temperature after WBC exposure are likely to cause vasoconstriction which reduces blood flow and swelling. Moreover, WBC may be effective in relieving soreness through reduced muscle metabolism, inflammation and nerve conduction velocity. “I have recently reviewed all of the literature on the effectiveness of this treatment and concluded that the preliminary evidence indicates that WBC may reduce delayed onset muscle soreness after exercise. “However, the quality of the current evidence is low and further research is needed. Further, the optimum prescription of the treatment, in terms of the temperature or the duration of the exposure, is not clear.” 2. Cold water immersion “Cold-water immersion (<15°C), to the level of the hips, is currently one of the most popular interventional strategies used to reduce DOMS after exercise in Europe. This can be achieved using specialised temperature controlled tanks or simple wheelie-bins. Similar to WBC, cold water immersion is likely to reduce metabolism, tissue temperature and inflammation following exercise. In addition, the pressure exerted by the water on the muscle, called hydrostatic pressure, may facilitate recovery by reducing inflammation and altering blood flow. The current scientific evidence indicates that cold-water immersion is likely to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness after exercise when compared with passive rest or no cold water immersion.” 3. Contrast water therapy “Contrast Water Therapy, alternating cold and warm water immersion, is also been offered to athletes as an alternative to cold water immersion of whole body cryotherapy. It is speculated that Contrast Water Therapy may reduce swelling and improve recovery by increasing (during the hot water immersion) and then decreasing (during the cold water immersion) blood flow. This theory is often called the ‘‘pumping action’’. “However, the exact mechanisms by which CWT may improve athletic recovery have yet to be established and presently there is little consensus regarding the effectiveness of the treatment in the sport science community.”

Category of impact

  • Educational Impacts (beyond UoP)

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