If you’re living a particularly active lifestyle, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is already an all-too-familiar feeling. It’s inevitable. And it can leave you feeling lost and helpless while you wait for it to go away. So are there any medically-proven ways to recover sore muscles faster?

The good news is: yes, you can proactively get back to your 100% as soon as possible.  For this article, physiotherapist Gorby Sangco offers his expert insights on DOMS recovery.

Gorby Sangco is the Clinical Director and Head Physiotherapist for Prohealth Sports and Spinal Physiotherapy Centres, an international physiotherapy clinic located in different parts of Asia. (Hong Kong, Singapore, India, China & the Philippines)

With a decade of professional practice, he had seen & helped a lot of patients suffering from different musculoskeletal & sports conditions.


What you should know about DOMS

DOMS, also known as “muscle fever”, is the aching feeling in your muscles after unfamiliarly intense exercise. In the physical therapy world, it’s called Post Exercise Muscle Soreness (PEMS). 

What causes DOMS?

DOMS happens due to temporary muscle damage and inflammation. Many people think its most common trigger is an eccentric exercise. But it can also happen with more common types of exercise, especially if your body isn’t used to it. 

How long does it take for the sore muscles to heal?

The soreness starts the day after the activity, and it usually peaks much later on. On average, you can expect DOMS recovery after 48 hours. But this number can range between 24 to 72 hours depending on the intensity of the exercise.

Is it okay to exercise with sore muscles?

As long as you go easy on the muscles affected by the previous workout, it should be fine. But when you’re too sore, you can’t really give your all. 

You’ll end up not getting as much benefit from your workout, as a result. This can also lead to compromises in your technique. Wait until the worst soreness is gone before doing the same exercises. It’s the smartest thing to do to maximize your gains and prevent injuries.


What happens when you ignore DOMS?

Young man wearing workout clothes reaching for his left shoulder in pain being attended by a male therapist

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First of all, what causes poor muscular recovery? Here are some mistakes people usually make:

  • Poor quality sleep 
  • Poor eating and hydration habits
  • Reckless muscle overuse

Not sleeping and eating/hydrating properly can significantly deprive your body of the resources it needs to recover. While simply powering through your muscle pain poses a serious injury risk.

You don’t want to push your muscles to the point of a major tear. That’s because strain injuries can feel a lot like DOMS – except the pain and damage only keeps getting worse. This can be hard to detect without the examination of a physical therapist.

Especially for those working out frequently, it takes a mindset shift to understand that rest is part of the workout. You only start to gain muscle mass and strength when you let your muscles recover properly.


How to recover after a brutal workout – the right way

Recovering your muscles overnight can sound like a tall order. But there are body hacks that can speed up your DOMS recovery. Including this simple routine during your workout days can already make all the difference:

  • Proper warm-up & cool down 
  • Have a post-workout massage
  • Up your post-workout protein intake
  • Take nutrient supplements
  • Get proper sleep

Warm-up and cool-down routine

A woman wearing workout clothes preparing to deadlift a barbell

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Regardless of your workout, every good warm-up and cool-down routine follows a fairly basic principle. Remember: when you’re warming up, you’re preparing to move; and when you’re cooling down, you’re preparing to rest

That’s why static stretches aren’t really the best pre-workout. During warm-up, you want to focus on a movement-based routine. For a full-body workout, there should be at least three target areas in your mobility exercises: shoulders, spine, and hips

You’d want to save the static stretching exercises for your cool down. At that, you should go through every muscle group you’ve used during your workout.

Curious about how a pro weightlifter might go about warm-up and cool-down8 exercises? You can read more about this interesting routine you can try.

Post-workout massage

A woman laying on her stomach getting a massage on her bare back

Photo by Daria Sannikova from Pexels

Effleurage techniques are characterized by smooth, gliding strokes, and they help with soft tissue relaxation. This is ideal for cooling your muscles down further and preventing spasms and tightness right after your workout. 

On the other hand, percussion massage can help alleviate soft tissue pain and soreness. This is usually done by hand, but using specialized devices is also common. For a quick recovery session on the go, you can try using a percussion massager

You can also do this prior to any activity. Especially if you have pain, it can help tissues withstand a greater load when working out.

What to take for muscle recovery

 A man wearing workout clothes drinking from his tumbler

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Protein and magnesium are the key nutrients to your muscle recovery. 

After you’ve just broken down your muscle fibers, your body is already busy repairing them with bigger and stronger ones. This is the best time for you to receive protein. This will provide more resources for your body to build new muscle tissue.

Magnesium, on the other hand, aids specifically with muscle relaxation. This can help you shake off any spasms and tightness in your muscles. With this, you get a better chance of being able to workout again the following day.

A flat lay of raw fish, avocados, nuts, eggs, herbs, broccoli, carrots, and other food items

Photo from Shutterstock

You can stock up on these nutrients with a solid post-workout meal, first and foremost. Here’s some of what you can add to your menu:

  • Chicken breasts (protein)
  • Tofu (protein)
  • Avocados (magnesium)
  • Whole grains (magnesium)
  • Legumes like peas, lentils, and beans (magnesium and protein)
  • Fatty fishes like mackerel, salmon, and halibut (magnesium and protein)

You also can boost your post-workout nourishment through supplements packed with the key nutrients. These might include:

Important to note, though: the overconsumption of protein can lead to side effects. For example, the most common ones experienced by women include hormonal imbalances like increased sweating, acne, and oiliness.

The role of sleep in muscle recovery

A man wearing white sleeping in bed under a striped blanket

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

There are four stages of sleep. The first three consist of NREM (non-rapid eye movement), and the last one is REM (rapid eye movement). Only in REM sleep do you mentally process the day you’ve just had. The physical processes, on the other hand, happen during NREM sleep. Specifically, it’s the light sleep stage that kick starts your muscle recovery. 

But it doesn’t stop there. The deep sleep right before REM sleep actually processes both the physical and mental aspect of your day. This makes way for a more meaningful part of your recovery where you gain alertness and enhanced physical performance.

It’s common for people to jump back and forth between sleep stages. But some people might also skip certain stages entirely while they’re asleep. This could get in the way of sleep quality and muscle recovery. 

Sleep tracking apps and devices can help you monitor each one of your sleep stages. If there are worrying patterns of poor quality/inadequate sleep, don’t hesitate to see a sleep doctor.


Recovering from DOMS can be an annoying process that you shouldn’t overlook 

Take full advantage of the headstart you get before the muscle soreness sets in. Give your body the best possible care, and it’ll be firing on all cylinders again in no time.

If you liked this article, subscribe to our newsletter so you won’t miss the next one. And check out the rest of our recovery articles for more tips on staying at your absolute best.


Additional References:

  1. Deep Tissue vs Swedish Massage: Which Is Better For Muscle Soreness?
  2. Post-Workout Nutrition: What to Eat After a Workout
  3. 10 Magnesium-Rich Foods That Are Super Healthy
  4. The 7 Best Types of Protein Powder

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