Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is muscle pain, soreness or stiffness that occurs a day or two after intensive sports training or competition and then lasts for about 2 to 4 days. It is not the muscle pain or tiredness you might feel straight after a competitive game, half marathon or marathon. Rather, it’s the soreness that might slow your speed from bed to breakfast bar the morning after a day of heavy exercise. It is due to tiny muscle fiber tears that lead to pain, inflammation, tiredness, stiffness and a restricted range of motion. All athletes from all sports experience DOMS at some stage in their careers.
Trying to prevent, rather than having to treat, muscle soreness is the best approach. Avoidance is possible through sensible training, racing and competition. Several measures after exercise, besides warming-up properly before exercise, may also help to prevent or reduce DOMS:
- Use an appropriate warm-down (i.e., active recovery).
- Consider a sports massage.
- Try an ice bath, or hot-and-cold (contrast-water) therapy.
- Do some gentle stretching during your warm-down.
- Use a foam roller (or rolling pin) on your calves, quads and hamstrings to improve circulation.
Other options for preventing and treating DOMS have been touted as successful. These include hyperbaric oxygen therapy, vibration treatment, and marine oil supplementation. Let’s have a look at the last option.
A combined study at the Cologne Training Institute, Germany, and Canberra University, Australia, investigated the effects of marine oils in 32 long-distance runners. Researchers found that a marine oil supplement derived from the New Zealand green-lipped mussel (Perna canalicula) significantly reduced muscle pain in the runners after an 18¾-mile (30-km) training road run. The course was flat, and athletes ran at a speed equivalent to about 70% of their individual peak oxygen uptake. The supplement used was a natural marine lipid extract consisting of fatty groups and unique omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.
At 24 and 48 hours after the run, athletes rated pain on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 indicated no pain and 10 indicated extreme pain. For 11 weeks before the run, 16 athletes had taken the test mussel lipids (400 mg once daily) and — as a benchmark — 16 had taken an olive oil placebo (i.e., an inactive capsule). The average muscle pain score was significantly lower (–1.1 points) in the marine lipid group than in the olive oil group of runners.
So what does this well-designed and well-conducted study tell us? It highlights that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids might be well worth consideration for several weeks before a half marathon or marathon race — or a finals game — and especially when training has been interrupted in the run-up to the event.