Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) describes a phenomenon of muscle pain, muscle soreness or muscle stiffness that is felt 12-48 hours after exercise, particularly at the beginning of a new an exercise program, after a change in sports activities, or after a dramatic increase in the duration or intensity of exercise.
This muscle pain is a normal response to unusual exertion and is part of an adaptation process that leads to greater stamina and strength as the muscles recover and build hypertrophy).
This sort of muscle pain is not quite the same as the muscle pain or fatigue you experience during exercise. This delayed pain is also very different than the acute, sudden pain of and injury such as muscle strains and sprains, which is marked by an abrupt, specific and sudden pain that occurs during activity and often causes swelling or bruising.
The delayed soreness of DOMS is generally at its worst within the first 2 days following the activity and subsides over the next few days.
Delayed onset muscle soreness is quite common and quite annoying, particularly for those beginning an exercise program or adding new activities. A beginning exerciser who bikes 10 miles, followed by push-ups and sit-ups is likely to experience muscle pain and soreness in the next day or two.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – Causes
Delayed onset muscle soreness is thought to be a result of microscopic tearing of the muscle fibers. The amount of tearing (and soreness) depends on how hard and how long you exercise and what type of exercise you do. Any movement you aren’t used to can lead to DOMS, but eccentric muscle contractions (movements that cause muscle to forcefully contract while it lengthens) seem to cause the most soreness.
Examples of eccentric muscle contractions include going down stairs, running downhill, lowering weights and the downward motion of squats and push-ups. In addition to small muscle tears there can be associated swelling in a muscle which may contribute to soreness.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – Treatment
There is no one simple way to treat delayed onset muscle soreness. In fact, there has been an ongoing debate about both the cause and treatment of DOMS. In the past, gentle stretching was one of the recommended ways to reduce exercise related muscle soreness, but a study by Australian researchers published in 2007 found that stretching is not effective in avoiding muscle soreness.
So does anything work to reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness? Nothing is proven 100 percent effective, but some people have found the following advice helpful, but it’s best for an individual to try a few things to see what works for them. Ultimately, best advice for treating DOMS is to prevent it in the first place.
Tips for Dealing with Muscle Soreness After Exercise.
If you do find yourself sore after a tough workout or competition, try these methods to deal with your discomfort. Although not all are backed up with research, many athletes report success with some of the following methods.
1. Use Active Recovery. This strategy does have support in the research. Performing easy low-impact aerobic exercise increasing blood flow and is linked with diminished muscle soreness. After an intense workout or competition, use this technique as a part of your cool down.
2. Rest and Recover. If you simply wait it out, soreness will go away in 3 to 7 days with no special treatment.
3. Try a Sports Massage. Some research has found that sports massage may help reduce reported muscle soreness and reduce swelling, although it had no effects on muscle function.
4. Try an Ice Bath or Contrast Water Bath. Although no clear evidence proves they are effective, many pro athletes use them and claim they work to reduce soreness.
5. Perform Gentle Stretching. Although research doesn’t find stretching alone reduces muscle pain of soreness, many people find it simply feels good.
6. Try a Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory. Aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium may help to temporarily reduce the muscle soreness, although they won’t actually speed healing. Be careful, however, if you plan to take them before exercise. Studies reported that taking ibuprofen before endurance exercise is not recommended.
7. Try Yoga. There is growing support that performing Yoga may reduce DOMS.
8. Listen to Your Body. Avoid any vigorous activity or exercise that increases pain.
9. Allow the soreness to subside thoroughly before performing any vigorous exercise.
10. Warm Up completely before your next exercise session. There is some research that supports that a warm-up performed immediately prior to unaccustomed eccentric exercise produces small reductions in delayed-onset muscle soreness (but cool-down performed after exercise does not).
11. ** If your pain persists longer than about 7 days or increases despite these measures, consult your physician.
12. Learn something from the experience! Use prevention first.
Tips to Help Prevent Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
While you may not be able to prevent muscle soreness entirely, you may reduce the intensity and duration of muscles soreness if you follow a few exercise recommendations.
1. Progress Slowly. The most important prevention method is to gradually increase your exercise time and intensity.
2. Warm Up thoroughly before activity and cool down completely afterward.
3. Cool Down with gentle stretching after exercise.
4. Follow the Ten Percent Rule. When beginning a new activity start gradually and build up your time and intensity no more than ten percent per week.
5. Hire a Personal Trainer if you aren’t sure how to start a workout program that is safe and effective.
6. Start a new weight lifting routine with light weights and high reps (10-12) and gradually increase the amount you lift over several weeks.
7. Avoid making sudden major changes in the type of exercise you do.
8. Avoid making sudden major changes in the amount of time that you exercise.
Certain muscle pain or soreness can be a sign of a serious injury. If your muscle soreness does not get better within a week consult your physician.