Methods For Preventing DOMS That Have Been Clinically Proven to Work
There are several techniques that researchers have found effective at treating the symptoms of DOMS and may lessen the soreness and tightness associated with DOMS. In some cases, the rapid utilization of these techniques after exercise may actually prevent the development of DOMS in the coming days.
Reducing Eccentric Contractions
Exercises that emphasize eccentric contractions (forced reps or many plyometric of static-body-weight exercise) seem to result in more severe muscle soreness. Research indicates that reducing these types of exercises may lessen the chances of developing DOMS.
On the other hand, eccentric movements have also been shown to be more effective at building muscle mass and strength than concentric contractions. In fact, eccentric exercises like forced reps are one of the staples of weight training plateau-breaking routines. So, maybe the temporary soreness is worth the payout. That's something you have to determine for yourself.
Pre -Exercise Warmup
Warming up sufficiently before preforming exercise may be effective at reducing some symptoms of DOMS.
Scientists aren't exactly sure what causes this. A 2004 study by KazunoriNosaka and KeiSakamoto, published in the Journal of Athletic Training, found that increasing muscle temperature alone did not produce a measurable difference in post-workout muscle soreness or DOMS. So it appears that the protective characteristics of warm-up are not due to an increase in body or muscle temperature.
A more interesting hypothesis is that performing "warm-up" sets of exercises - which has been long recommended by trainers - creates an environment in the trained muscle that reduces the damage of subsequent sets of exercise in the same muscle group. A separate study by Nosaka, published in the February 2002 journal of ActaPhysiologicaScandinavica found that the first set of eccentric exercise that a person performs has a protective effect on subsequent bouts of exercise - and that this "warm-up" wasn't due to central nervous system adaptations (the researchers controlled for this by stimulating the muscle with electricity). Instead, it may be the result of a cellular adaptation caused by the initial bout of exercise.
Practically speaking, this makes a case for warm-up sets prior to performing heavy eccentric exercise, although it's important to understand that most of the research around warm-up is carefully controlled. You may not experience the same effects in an uncontrolled gym environment.
Ice/ Cryotherapy: Why Ice Is Nice
There is a fair amount of clinical evidence that cryotherapy, or treatment with cold or ice, can prevent or reduce symptoms of DOMS. I know ice isn't as glamorous as L- Carnitine or Acai Berries - but it appears that it is effective in treating some symptoms of DOMS.
Cold water immersion - think "ice baths" here - are one of the most widely studied techniques for treating DOMS. A 1999 study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences found that immersing the trained muscle in cold water 15 minutes after completing eccentric exercise, and then following up every 12 hours with a similar 15 minute immersion, reduced muscle stiffness and damage. However, the researchers noted that it didn't seem to improve muscle tenderness or loss of strength. So, while it may help with some symptoms of DOMS, it doesn't appear to treat others.
What about ice massage?
Based on the current research, ice massage does not appear to be effective at reducing the symptoms of DOMS. However, this may simply be a result of the construction of studies around ice massage therapy - especially since cold water immersion seems to have some advantageous effects.
Mixed Treatments: The Key to Reducing Symptoms of DOMS?
As researchers Declan and Connelly of the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Vermont - Burlingame have pointed out in their excellent review of the current research around treatment of DOMS, the most promising area of additional research is around combining multiple therapies together to treat DOMS. For example, they are particularly intrigued with the idea of combining cold therapy with compression therapy, which my have a synergistic effect on DOMS treatment.
Alternative and Experimental Treatments for DOMS
There are a number of other "alternative" or highly-experimental treatments for DOMS that warrant more attention. These include acupuncture, hyperbaric oxygen treatment, and the application of electromagnetic shielding fabric. While a few studies suggest positive results with all three of these methods, with the exception of acupuncture they are treatments that are just not practical for the average gym-goer or athlete who doesn't have access to high-tech equipment.