Delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) generally shows up a day or two after a workout (hence the term “Delayed”) and can last up to 4 days or even longer in extreme cases. DOMS is typically going to be more severe with higher volumes of work and particularly if the eccentric component is accentuated, as this tends to be the most damaging to the muscle. After a few workouts we generally adapt to the stimulus and become less sore each time thereafter. However, after a layoff from the weights or with incorporating new exercises you can rest assured that there will be DOMS. Reducing DOMS is an important area of research in sports science and medicine. This is because of the obvious detrimental effects that DOMS has on performance. Athletes experiment with ice tubs, contrast baths, stretching, nutritional supplementation and even anti-inflammatory consumption to try and alleviate DOMS. Self-myofascial release techniques with foam rolling are also strategies some athletes will use. However, the effectiveness of foam rolling for reducing soreness is unclear at best.
Some new research out of Canada by Pearcey and colleagues (2014) published ahead of print in the Journal of Athletic Training endeavored to test the effects of foam rolling on DOMS and performance following high volume resistance training. Eight healthy male college students performed a grueling 10 sets of 10 reps on the back squat with 60% of their 1RM on two occasions separated by 4 weeks. In a randomized fashion, the subjects followed up 1 workout with 20 minutes of foam rolling immediately after and again 24 and 48 hours following the workout. For the other workout, no foam rolling or recovery work was performed. Pressure-pain threshold (i.e., perceived soreness after being poked in the leg muscles), 30 m sprint speed, broad jump, change of direction (T-test) and strength endurance was measured before and a couple days after each workout.
The results showed that foam rolling substantially reduced quadriceps soreness, improved 30 m sprint time, broad jump and endurance (effect sizes ranging from 0.48 – 0.87). Foam rolling not only reduced perceived soreness, but also did a good job at reducing performance decrements in nearly all of the field tests. Traditionally, foam rolling is used before workouts to help improve mobility and flexibility and has, in some studies, been effective at transiently improving performance. It appears that foam rolling may also be useful for alleviating DOMS and reducing the associate performance decrements that typically accompany exercise induced muscle soreness. It should be noted however that this was a very small sample size, but the results are quite promising and certainly warrant further investigation.
Pearcey, GE. et al. (2014) Foam Rolling for Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Recovery of Dynamic Performance Measures. Journal of Athletic Training, Epub ahead of print.