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Using Turmeric to Treat DOMS

Anyone who has ever pushed themselves a bit too hard at the gym, lifted too many heavy boxes while moving house, or added an extra loop to their hike is familiar with DOMS. This is because DOMS is the medical term for “I’m sore.”

For those who exercise often, this soreness can be understood as one of the chronic diseases of their lifestyle. This sounds dramatic, but it’s not that bad. DOMS is mainly a short-term problem which we can quickly and effectively treat, although repeated instances of DOMS can have more lasting impacts.

However, for others, the pain and sensitivity DOMS causes can put a strain on everyday life, and it can slow down your training progress.

As we’ll see in a bit, the exact cause of DOMS is not fully understood and while we do have a good idea of how to treat DOMS, there is more we could be doing.

For example, turmeric, the ancient Indian spice most perceive of as an ingredient in “curry powder,” provides a novel treatment approach for DOMS that promises to relieve pain while allowing people to make the most of their fitness routines.

But why is turmeric so effective in treating DOMS? And how should we use it to relieve muscle pain and soreness?

To answer these questions, it’s important to understand as much as we can about DOMS and the effects it has on the body.

What is DOMS?

DOMS stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. It’s the pain and tenderness you feel the day after you undergo some sort of strenuous exercise.

Interestingly, DOMS is different from the pain you might feel during your workout. This is something different, and it should be taken more seriously. For example, if you begin to feel soreness while lifting weights or running, this could be an acute strain, which is different and more serious. When this happens, you should stop exercising so as to prevent further damage.

For most, DOMS appears between 6-8 hours after a workout and lasts for several days. But this varies from person to person. Symptoms can disappear after 24 hours, but they can also last up to a week.

Symptoms of DOMS

For most, the symptoms of DOMS are easy to spot. They are pain, tenderness, and weakness in the affected area. In other words, it’s the burn you feel in your muscles after a strenuous or unfamiliar workout.

In general, when we experience DOMS, there isn’t any cause for concern. Most of us are taught that being sore is not the same as being injured and that we can continue to use our muscles even if they hurt.

In general, this is true, but know that when suffering from DOMS, you will experience a reduced range of motion in the affected area, a greater sensitivity to shock, and also a decrease in the amount of torque you can generate, according to a study by Cheung et al, and this can increase your risk of injury.

Long-Term Effects of DOMS

For most, the effects of DOMS will wear off within a few days, especially if you take a break from exercising.

However, the impacts of DOMS are not only felt in the short-term, and they are not all bad.

For example, there is some evidence to suggest that DOMS can actually lead to muscle growth. The idea is that when the muscles experience microtrauma on a frequent basis, they adapt by generating new tissue, which leads to growth. This is known as the repeat-bout or adaptation effect.

But we should be wary about letting this evidence lure us into thinking it’s good to be sore all the time. Rest should always be part of any exercise routine.

What Causes DOMS?

Now that we know what DOMS is, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out its primary cause, which is excessive or unfamiliar exercise.

Think about the last time you really pushed yourself at the gym, or you exercised for the first time in a long while. The pain you felt in the days after is DOMS.

However, this definition is not sufficient for helping us develop effective treatments for DOMS. It’s important to understand the different biological processes that produce the set of symptoms that are collectively known as DOMS.

But unfortunately, there is no medical consensus about the exact cause of DOMS. Instead, we have a general understanding of the different mechanisms behind the phenomenon.

For example, studies show that some types of exercise or more likely to cause DOMS than others, such as eccentric contractions. These exercises refer to the motion of a muscle that is lengthening under load.

This includes bench pressing, deadlifting, curling, doing pull-ups, etc. All of these motions require us to extend our muscles while they are also supporting weight, and this increases our chances of developing DOMS, especially when we exert ourselves beyond our normal capabilities.

Eccentric Contractions

Knowing the role of eccentric contractions in the development of DOMS can help us treat it in that it tells us which activities are most likely to cause us this pain.

However, it’s important to go a bit deeper. Today, most researchers agree DOMS is caused to some extent by “microtrauma,” which refers to the minor damage your muscles experience as a result of rigorous or unfamiliar exercise.

From there, it’s believed metabolites, such as protons, lactate, and ATP, swarm the muscles so as to repair them, and this “poisons” the muscles and creates pain.

In sum, microtrauma creates damage in the muscles, and the body’s response to that damage is swelling, which is why our muscles hurt so much in the days after a particularly difficult workout. As a result, most treatment options focus on reducing swelling and inflammation, as this is seen as the main cause of DOMS-related pain.

Additional Causes

While excessive and unfamiliar exercise, as well as intense eccentric contractions, are seen as the main causes for DOMS, there are other ideas out there.

For example, it has long been thought that dehydration makes one more susceptible to DOMS and intensifies the symptoms, but recent research suggests this might not be the case.

Furthermore, there is some evidence to suggest our psychology might have an impact on our propensity to develop DOMS. In other words, our fear of pain may cause us to experience it more often. But this theory is still in its beginning stages and should not be understood as the primary cause of DOMS.


Current Treatment Options

Because isolated cases of DOMS will not cause long-term or permanent damage, the treatment options available are simple and easy to access. You don’t need special medications or fancy specialists. In fact, the current treatment options as outlined by WebMD are:

  • Exposing the affected area to a cold compress will help reduce swelling, which can reduce the pain associated with DOMS.
  • Known if the athletic community as “rubbing it out,” a gentle massage of the affected area can help reduce swelling and eliminate some of the metabolites that cause the pain associated with DOMS.
  • If the pain is excessive or recurrent, then the best treatment is rest. Give the affected area a few days break and this should cause the pain to go away. If it doesn’t, seek medical attention.
  • Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). Medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve) have been found to be effective when used sparingly to treat DOMS symptoms. However, some studies have found that repeated use of NSAIDs can impair satellite cell activity in muscle tissue, which limits muscle growth. So, if you’re someone looking to build muscle and make exercise a routine part of your life, then you may not want to rely on this treatment option.

Using Turmeric to Treat DOMS

The above treatment options have all been found to be effective, but they all have their downside. For example, ice can only be applied while sitting, which is hardly convenient, not everyone can get a massage, and rest is often not the most desired option.

NSAIDs are okay every once in a while, but as mentioned above, repeated use can limit muscle growth, and it can have negative effects on your liver.

Fortunately, there are a number of natural medicines to treat the symptoms of DOMS while also supporting a healthy lifestyle, a strong contender of which is Curcuma longa, the active ingredient in turmeric root, and the spice of which is synonymous with curries.

What is Turmeric?

Turmeric is most commonly known as a yellow coloured powdered spice that is derived from grinding up the turmeric root, which is in the same family as the ginger root.

People in India have been cooking with turmeric for thousands of years and using it as a medicinal herb. Turmeric is an important treatment option in the ancient Ayurveda tradition that is still practised in many places around the world.

Because of its long history, turmeric and curcumin have received much more attention from the medical community as of late, and the results of this research indicate turmeric may be an effective treatment for many different conditions, including DOMS.

Turmeric’s Effect on DOMS

The main reason turmeric is an effective treatment for DOMS is that it reduces inflammation. In fact, the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric are what first got people interested in using this spice as medicine.

When it comes to DOMS, this means that turmeric has the power to reduce the pain associated with DOMS, and when combined with ice and massage, it can also speed up recovery.

Why Turmeric is Better

Using turmeric to treat DOMS is smart because it is more effective than using just ice and massage alone, and it is also a natural remedy, meaning you can avoid some of the negative side effects of other medications, such as NSAIDs, which include liver damage and reduced muscle growth.

Furthermore, unlike other, more intense pain medications, turmeric is non-habit forming. The worst thing it can do is get your stomach upset, and even that is a rare occurrence.

But perhaps more importantly, using turmeric for inflammation conditions such as DOMS provides you with the additional health benefits of turmeric, such as:

Adding Turmeric to Your Diet

Whether you’re a fitness nut or not, it should be clear that adding turmeric to your diet is a good idea. Here are some of the most effective ways to do this:

1) Cooking

Turmeric powder adds spice and colour to your food. It’s a common ingredient in Indian food, and it can be purchased at nearly every supermarket. However, the turmeric powder you buy in the store often contains very little Curcuma longa, meaning you need to consume a lot of the spice for it to have the intended effect. This is why it’s important to consider the many different forms of curcumin supplementation, such as tablets or speciality drinks.

2) Drink It

Turmeric tea is not only tasty, but it provides you with a significant dose of this healthy spice. Other options include speciality turmeric shots. These might be the best option as it will allow you to get the most grams of curcumin possible, leading to the most significant effect.

3) Rub It

Creams and lotions containing turmeric extract can be applied directly to the affected area to provide some pain relief and swelling reduction. However, this will deny you the other benefits of turmeric, and it will also make your skin turn yellow.

4) Supplement it

Turmeric supplements are pills you can take on a daily basis that ensure you get all the turmeric you need. However, when looking at supplements, or any turmeric product in general, make sure they include piperine, the main ingredient in black pepper, as this has been found to improve the body’s ability to absorb Curcumin longa, enhancing its effect in the body.

If you’re looking for a quick, easy and highly effective way to get turmeric into your body, The Turmeric Co. shots will be the perfect fit. Learn more about them here.


A life without DOMS would be nice, but it’s simply not possible. As long as we move and push ourselves, we will get sore.

But if we use turmeric, then we can reduce the impacts of our workouts, promote muscle growth, and reduce pain while also enjoying the many benefits turmeric can provide to our overall wellbeing.