We all know the feeling – you feel great after a tough class just a little tired, but then you wake up the next morning stiff and sore. This is known as DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.
DOMS is the gradually increasing feeling of muscle soreness that occurs between 24 and 48 hours after exercise, but don’t worry it’s not uncommon. As dancers we’re typically pretty fit, and flexible, so what it takes to make us sore is generally a lot more intense than your average person. That said we’ve all had the grueling class that pushes us to our limits, and it’s when we hit these limits that we typically experience DOMS. In fact for students studying at vocational (pre-professional) level, it can be a regular part of life.
DOMS typically occurs when muscles are worked harder than they usually are day to day, and is particularly common after a break of holiday from dance or when increasing the frequency or intensity of your dancing increases. It is part of your body’s natural response and adaptation process to working harder. The good news is that it leads to increased stamina and strength as your build up muscle.
It’s important to realise that gradual soreness of DOMS is different to the tiredness and fatigue that can happen during exercise or the sharp, sudden pain of a muscle strain which often causes swelling and bruising. Doctors believe that DOMS is the result of microscopic tearing of the muscle fibers. The amount of tearing and soreness you feel depends on how hard you exercise. Although any movements can lead to DOMS, eccentric muscle contractions such as push ups, plies and squats seem to cause the most soreness.
So, what can you do to help with DOMS?
Unfortunately, there is no one solution, however the following things may help alleviate some of the soreness:
- Drink lots of water
- Try yoga or gentle stretching
- Make sure you are eating enough protein so that your body can repair muscle
- Listen to your body – rest if that’s what your muscles are telling you
- Elevate your legs – lying with your legs up a wall can help reduce soreness
- Ice any parts that are particularly sore, alternating with heat
- Wear a compression sleeve, or compression or tight clothing
- Foam roll or use a tennis ball to gentle massage muscles and increase blood flow
- Make sure you warm up properly before your next session
American College of Sports Medicine. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.
Dance Spirit Magazine. Your Aches and Pains Addressed: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.
Sports Medicine. About.com Muscle Pain and Soreness After Exercise.
Fitness and Exercise. Webmd.com Coping with Soreness After Exercise.
This post is part two of a series on stretching. Check out the first part A Beginner’s Guide to Stretching here, if you missed it.
What is safe stretching?
- Safe stretching is stretching in a way that is as safe as possible for you and your body.
Why is it so important?
- It helps to reduce the chance of injury.
- It can actually help improve your flexibility
- It places limits to stop you from overdoing it.
How to stretch safely:
- Warm up properly first with 10 – 20mins of cardio. This could include briskly walking, running, skipping or other movement that get your heart beating faster. From an anatomical point of view, cardio increases your body temperature, thus warming up your muscles and making them more flexible. Cold muscles don’t like to stretch!
- Start gently. Don’t throw yourself into splits straight away, do some hip-opening stretches or hamstring stretches to engage the muscles first. Whatever your planning to work on in your stretching session, start slowly as your muscles are still warming up.
- Know your limits and don’t force it. If you are sore from a class earlier in the week, then keep that in mind and work to your limits. Similarly if you are recovering from an injury don’t push yourself too hard.
- Be realistic. Change (unfortunately) doesn’t happen overnight however much we want to! Progress happens day by day and I know from experience that you do yourself no favours by having unrealistic expectations.
- Don’t overstretch. Overstretching is when you stretch for longer or further than your body can realistically handle. This could be sitting in splits for 10+ minutes while watching TV or stretching for long periods of time more than once a day. Either way it’s not good and it dramatically increases your chance of injury. Did you know that 60% of dance injuries occur as a result of overuse (DANZ, 2006)?
- Monitor your energy level. If you are already exhausted your more likely to injure yourself. 90% of dance injuries occur when a dancer is fatigued (DANZ, 2006). If you’re shattered after a tough class or a long day, skip the stretching and relax. You’ll be doing your body a favour.
- Stretching shouldn’t be painful. A stretch? Yes. Not comfortable? Definitely. Sore Afterwards? Possibly. Actually painful? No! Pain means you’re pushing yourself too hard and increasing the risk of injury. If you do injure yourself apply the dancer’s first aid strategy PRICED immediately.
- Feed yourself. So important. Using your muscles takes energy from your body and muscles and you need to replace it help them stay strong, so make sure you eat something within 40 minutes of stretching. It doesn’t have to be much, but something with protein and carbohydrates is perfect.
Disclaimer: I’m a dancer not a doctor. These are remedies that I have used during my years dancing and have learnt via the dance teacher training I’m currently completing. If something is persistent, painful or acute then these remedies are not going to be enough and you need to see a health care professional. The content in this post is curated from a previous blog entry I have written for another blog.
Here’s the thing. I’m a dancer, which means that I am used to aches and pains. Very used to them in fact. Mostly it’s just been the usual overworked muscles, tired feet from pointe shoes and slightly overenthusiastic stretching the day before, but sometimes it’s more serious. I was brought up using natural remedies and they are still always my first port of call for aches, pains, strains or sprains. I know that when I have children these will be the first things I go to when they get injured. Here are some of my top remedies:
You may have heard of RICE (Rest Ice Compression Elevation) for muscular injuries but PRICED is that dancer version and I like that it’s just that bit more specific. This is my starting point for all injuries and muscle strains.
Protection – remove additional danger/risk from the injured area – i.e. stop whatever caused the injury/move away from anything that might make it worse
Rest – stop moving the injured area – common sense really!
Ice – apply an ice pack to the injured area for 20 minutes. You can repeat this every two hours for the first 24 – 48 hours after the injury. Don’t leave it for longer the 20 minutes as this is bad for the skin – I really can’t recommend this one enough! The cold narrows the blood vessels which helps to manage the blood flow to the injured area thus reducing swelling.
Compression – apply an elastic bandage to the area – this again helps manage the swelling while providing support to the injured area.
Elevation – elevate the injured area – if possible to above heart level. This helps to manage the blood flow and swelling and should provide some relief from pain.
Diagnosis – have the injury evaluate by a health care professional – this isn’t always necessary, I only tend to do this if the pain is severe or continues for more than a couple of days but each person and each case is different.
Arnica is great for sore, overworked or overuse muscles. It’s also very good at promoting healing of bruised or damaged tissue. Arnica is a homeopathic medicine which can be taken in a number of ways. I use it both externally as a cream and internally in tablet or liquid form to assist healing.
You can buy cream that is specifically just Arnica from most Chemists, or you can buy it in a combination sports rub cream. I prefer straight Arnica because I don’t like the peppermint that it’s usually combined with in sports rubs. I usually massage this into the sore area and then (depending on where on my body or how sore the injured area is) strap it up with an elastic bandage. This gives the injured area some much need support and also prevents the cream from making a mess on my clothes or the floor. I generally support this with homeopathic liquid Arnica to assist healing and repair of strained muscles from the inside out.
This is a new one I’ve recently discovered. I had a more serious injury last year that landed me on crutches for a while and I found that Arnica on its own wasn’t enough, so I tried comfrey cream. Not only is it an anti-inflamatory it’s also great for pain relief and is all natural.
As an injury or strain starts to heal I stop using cold packs and start using heated wheat/rice packs on the injured area. The heat helps the muscles to relax and soothes the pain naturally. This is also a great idea for when you’ve got tired muscles from a long day or an enthusiastic exercise session. Not recommended for acute injuries though as heat promotes blood flow.
You have to be a bit careful with this one. If an injury is acute, painful or recent don’t go there – I repeat don’t go there! Massage promotes blood flow and if you have swelling – that’s the last thing you want to do. However if you just have sore or achy muscles then massage can be a really good way to soothe them. As a dancer this is a common occurrence, particularly in my achilles tendons and plantar fascia after a tough pointe class. I like to use a wooden massage ball, a tennis ball or a foam roller to roll on my muscles to help them relax but hands work just as well too.
Of course this list is by no means exhaustive – it’s just what works well for me.
Now it’s your turn.
What remedies work well for you?