First week back at Dancing, Teachers are sore, Students are sore, Company members are sore. Should this always be the case. Through the nature of Dance as exercise it places a large demand on the quadriceps, hamstrings, core muscles (inclusive of spinal erectors), glutes and calves. The intensity with which Dancers are reintroduced to Dancing following a long break, summer for example, can often be rather dramatic. But this is necessarily positive as Dance hours at the beginning of the season can be lost due to Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
DOMS have a number of different effects, outside of the obvious soreness that can be physically felt within the muscle, muscle damage can create swelling within the muscle its self which can also be linked to a decrease in muscle function and ultimately performance following the experience of DOMS.
This loss of function will usually last longer than the soreness itself and the recovery from a extreme physical bout of exercise or Dance can be a process that continues several days following the exercise itself. The initial feeling of soreness will peak 24-48 hours after the exercise itself and this caused by the swelling and inflammation induced by micro-tears in the connective tissues. This usually as a direct result of eccentric loading which is the lengthening of a muscle or stretching of a muscle under load; such as landing from jumps, slow pliés or fondu on a single leg.
So what to do?
Well... First off we could easily provide systems by which DOMS can be avoided. For example, progressing steadily back to high intensity Dancing such as Allegro and high velocity movements in the classroom or studio. Similarly, starting with a small amount of jumping and slowly building the volume over time. This will allow the body to positively adapt to cope the demands and progressing volume of impact and loaded movement. The decreased muscle function in classes and rehearsals that follow could potentially lead to greater muscle damage in other compensatory areas. Similarly this decrease in function may allow changes in technique and ballet mechanics which would place the Dancer at risk of injury.
However, if DOMS is unavoidable, what should we do...?
There are a number of methods that research suggests may have potential to reduce the sensation and effects of DOMS such as: Foam Rolling, Massage, Cryotherapy, Stretching and Warm water Bathing/Saunas.
Contrary to popular belief stretching, neither before, during or after, has little to no effect on the symptoms and effects of DOMS.
Research from the early 2000s suggested that massage could effectively reduce the soreness felt following exercises that damaged muscles to the point where DOMS was induced. However, the function of the muscles was not positively influenced or improved following the massage. Massage also positively influences the swelling that was also experienced during DOMS.
Similarly, Foam Rolling and other myofascial release activities have been shown to have a positive effect on the DOMS in terms of the pain felt following high intensity exercise. At the same time foam rolling also presented positive effects in terms of increased Range of Motion. One study in particular demonstrates that foam rolling had a positive influence on jump height in the 48 hours that followed muscle damaging exercise. This is likely because of the improved recovery of connective tissues when compared with those who performed no recovery methods.
Other methods, such as cryotherapy, can be difficult to come by and the research surrounding its usage can be controversial and contrasting.
Personally, I am a fan of foam rolling and the use of tennis balls to reduce the swelling and soreness experienced with DOMS.
I will also encourage the Dancers and Athletes I work with to perform these release techniques in order to acutely improve range of motion so that this range can then be trained. For example, before class in the mornings Dancers will perform foam rolling and release methods to improve ROM and reduce the inflammation from the previous days' exercise if it is deemed necessary.
As with most methods of this nature there are some that dispute its usage. However, in the field of Dance, if we can gain increased ROM in the short term we can use that improved range in class and training to improve strength and precision of movement in that new range.
Here are some specific release methods that will help your DOMS , should you get them, or tight muscle groups and improve the recovery rate of connective tissue following exercise.
Give these a try prior to class or training.