Massage and its effect on D.O.M.S.

Massage and its effect on D.O.M.S.

It has been exactly one year since the province of Alberta declared its first COVID-19 case. With each provincial lockdown since, most people have stayed inside and for a lot of us, this has caused a significant struggle in being and staying active. Now with the recent announcement of fitness facilities being allowed to reopen, many people (myself included) are heading back to the gym to get ready for summer activities that are just around the corner. This sudden availability of equipment and workout space has created an increase in exercise which can also mean an increase in soreness post exercise.    

Technically known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, DOMS is never a fun thing to experience, especially when either trying to get back into shape or at the beginning of a fitness journey. I know it is one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced while working out, so I thought I would discuss how massage can help alleviate some of this pain and/or discomfort and support a healthier lifestyle.   

Before we talk about how massage, however, let’s talk more about what DOMS is. While it is agreed upon in both the science and fitness communities that strenuous activity can lead to DOMS, not much is known about why strenuous activity causes it.   

The “Lactic Acid Theory” is widely accepted by most of the fitness industry, and it suggests that lactic acid is the cause of DOMS. This is because, according to some scientists who examined a group of people post exercise, high levels of lactate were found in the participant’s muscle. Lactate was thought to make muscles more acidic, and this acidity seemed to be produced only after exercise. Thus, the scientists concluded that lactic acid must be responsible for resulting pain or soreness (DOMS).    

Since those early studies, the lactic acid theory has been proven inaccurate as we learn more about lactate and cellular respiration. Instead, it is now believed that lactate is not the culprit for making the cells more acidic. Contrary to the first theory, lactate is a ‘base’ rather than an ‘acid’ because it lacks a proton. This lack of a proton means it can only accept protons, not donate them (meaning it can’t make the cell more acidic). When in the recovery phase of an exercise, lactate is turned into what is known as ‘pyruvate’ which is then converted into a fuel source (ATP) or flushed out of the cell*.  

Because of this updated understanding of lactate, scientists no longer believe in the lactic acid theory and its role in DOMS/muscle soreness. A newer theory called the “Muscle Damage Theory” is showing promise and explains that when we perform an exercise, specifically an eccentric exercise, damage to the muscle is created in the form of ‘micro-tears’. These micro-tears cause the body’s pain receptors (nociceptors) to register and send signals to the brain that there is damage to the muscle. The brain then interprets this signal of information and reacts in pain or discomfort. If you would like to know more about this subject, I was suggest checking out this article.   

As both theories still coexist thanks to their respective supporters, we cannot say for certain why pain and/or discomfort happens post-workout, only that it does, and that this can have an impact on our bodies. One thing that has been shown to have some effectiveness in decreasing DOMS is massage. A metanalysis*** conducted in 2017 examined this specifically and proposed three possibilities about massage and positive results it may have on DOMS.   

These include:   

  1. “The effect massage has on the parasympathetic nervous system.” – Massage has an effect on the parasympathetic nervous system (also known as the “rest and digest” system) by having a calming and lowering the effects of the sympathetic nervous system (“fight, flight or freeze”).
  2. “The effect massage has on increasing blood and lymph flow for clearing away biochemical markers of muscle damage.”  – Massage can have a demonstrated effect on the flow of blood and lymph. Skilled massage therapists with specialized training are able to increase the effect of lymph movement in the body. 
  3. “Psychophysiological response massage has on pain.” – The perception of pain is different for everyone and those who have psychological conditions especially, often have an over-stimulus of brain activity. Massage is said to decrease the perpetual focus on that pain and calm the body. A person may book a massage because they are in pain initially, but after the treatment ideally they should experience less pain because their body and brain are able to get relief.

Theralleve therapists know the importance of combining massage and homecare because we understand our clients’ desire to lead active lives, regardless of fitness level or goal. We know there will be times of pain and discomfort, and by understanding the various reasons behind this, we not only aim to treat, but to empower you with tools and knowledge that will provide you a role in your own recovery and overall health journey. Remember, we’re here to support you in and outside of the treatment room because life doesn’t stop after seeing us! 

To discuss your goals for health and fitness and how massage may help, please book in an appointment or send us an email at clinic@theralleve.ca. We look forward to hearing from you!  

   

Definitions:   

Metanalysis: a large review of current research to gauge accuracy and understanding of information presented.***  

Eccentric: An exercise where you are lengthening a muscle while under tension/load. Example: when you are bringing your arm down from a biceps curl.  

DOMS: the soreness typically experienced after a strenuous activity. Usually felt 12-24 hours post-activity, but it can last up to 72 hours.   

  

*Poindexter, C., & Hernandez, C. (2018). DOMS: Why do your muscles hurt days after exercise?  

**Guo, J., Li, L., Gong, Y., Zhu, R., Xu, J., Zou, J., & Chan, X. (2017). Massage Alleviates Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness after Strenuous Exercise: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in Physiology, 8(747). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5623674/

Self-care is not selfish

Self-care is not selfish

Many of us are familiar with the adage “you cannot pour from an empty cup”. In simplest terms, this means that you cannot give to others (in time or effort) when you have not taken care of yourself first.

Especially true for women, many of us have been taught that we are the primary caregivers of society. With a long-held belief that all women should recognize the signs of exhaustion and pain in others and be ready to come to their aid at a moment’s notice, the idea of prioritizing our own needs over that of our family, for instance, is often seen as selfish. Since selfishness is not an admirable quality to have, the myth of ‘putting others first (and only)’ has been long perpetuated and the acts of burying our own desire for selfcare or running ourselves into the ground, are instead rewarded.

Thankfully, perhaps in part due to the pandemic, selfcare is starting a renaissance. Not only for women, but for society at large, we are broadening our definition of “health” and including concepts like “wellbeing”. This addition goes beyond our fundamental needs (like employment and housing) and acknowledges the emotional and spiritual realms as well. Now more than ever we are seeing the importance of work/life balance beyond the buzz words and since “stress” is an unavoidable, and some might argue necessary part of our lives, we are consciously (re)learning practices which help us establish (and maintain) that balance.

Though the idea of making healthier choices might seem a bit daunting, especially if you are not in the habit of “listening” to your body, the following might offer a useful place to start.

1. Start by asking yourself what activity you could enjoy. For me, I know I enjoy walking. It is low maintenance, gets me outside, and “grounds” me by allowing my mind to either completely wander or problem solve the thoughts in my head that need figuring.

2. Consider how much time you can commit to this activity and then schedule it. The key is not to get so overwhelmed by all the things you can do. Start small, pick one or two, see what resonates, and then repeat.

Here are some examples of what I do.

  1. If I have 5 minutes, I will listen to a guided meditation that focuses on my breathing. Because I know myself well enough to know I am easily distracted, 5 minutes is just enough time for me to take a mental break, reclaim my calm and feel focused for any tasks ahead. Plus, I often feel I “forget” to breathe so this helps me reconnect.

    Another idea I have used is starting a “Gratitude Journal”. (I highly recommend the Dollar store if you want to buy a cheap and colourful journal although they have solid colours, too). Start by writing 3-4 bullet points of things (people, experiences, etc.) that make you feel thankful. It can be a word, sentence or paragraph. Try to write every day. 

  2. If I have ten minutes, I think about food prep. Lately, as part of my goal to consume more vegetables and keep my immune system strong, I have started making batches of “green” ice cubes for my morning smoothies. Blitzing fresh kale, spinach and a bit of water until a vibrant green liquid is created, I freeze this liquid into ice cube trays and then combine it with chunks of fruit in small freezer bags. The next morning before I dash out the door (I love sleep), I blend it all together with a scoop of unflavoured protein powder and a touch more liquid (milk, water, juice) and I am good to go!
  3. If I have 30 minutes, as noted, I love to walk. I always have my running shoes (and a clean pair of socks) by the front door. After a long day, I lace up my shoes and beeline it for outside. You don’t have to go far, and you don’t have to go fast. Your body is moving, and your lungs are filling with air. That’s all that matters.
  4. If I have an hour, I might consider doing something for my body that has more impact. Like working out, dancing in my living room, or getting a massage. The best massages leave my body feeling “worked on” but lighter. Because I know my muscles are moving better, I feel energized, relaxed, and ready to take on the world. If that sounds appealing to you, I might just know a place…

Habits, whether helpful or hindering, take time to form as well as break. Learning to care about yourself is not decided in an instant. It is not a “go big or go home” kind of experience either. It is often making small, continuous changes. Go gently. Try to be consistent. You are worth the effort.