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About DOMS

About DOMS

Have you just started working out or pushed real hard in a physical activity and feel sore a day or two after? You could be feeling the effects of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).

What is DOMS?

DOMS is a dull ache, although sometimes it could be described a bit more than a dull feeling, especially if you have really hit a muscle hard.

When feeling DOMS, your muscles are usually tender to the touch, feel stiff with a reduced range of motion due to the discomfort and the affected muscles usually feel fatigued and sometimes give the feeling of a burning sensation in the muscle.

This feeling often happens to those new to working out, had a long rest period from working out sessions or who do an activity that works a muscle in a different way than it is used to.

When you work out, your muscles suffer from microscopic tears in their fibres. The body then responds by repairing the damage. It is believed the ache is the result of the damage and inflammation in the muscle and the processes required for repair. When your body goes through the recovery process it will repair the muscle and all things being equal also rebuild the muscle with compensation to allow the muscle to be prepared for the next time it is hit with this workout. That compensation could be in the form of more muscle fibres for bigger muscles, stronger muscles or endurance, depending on the type of stress that was placed on it.

DOMS is also more likely to occur when doing an exercise that causes a muscle to fight against a force as it lengthens, this is known as an eccentric action. It happens when you lower a weight and your muscle lengthens against a force and tries to contract. Certain exercises are more than likely than others to cause DOMS, such as high rep/endurance training, plyometrics and high impact exercises such as running (especially downhill).

DOMS generally occurs 24-48 hours after your workout, but can sometimes start just a few hours after your workout session. It will generally subside within 2 to 5 days post workout. Some muscle groups take longer to recover. For most people their legs and calves suffer most from DOMS and can last more than a week.

Once your muscles get used to being stimulated, the effects of DOMS can have less and less of an effect. Your muscles become more conditioned and your body recognizes the regular stimulus, so you won’t always get DOMS or feel its effect. DOMS also isn’t an indicator of how well you have worked out either, so don’t feel you haven’t had a proper workout if you aren’t suffering from any real discomfort post workout.

The difference between soreness and pain

Before we carry on with the rest of the article we need to differentiate between soreness and pain. The feeling of soreness after physical activity generally happens a period after working out, usually the next day and should last a couple of days. Whereas pain generally occurs in an instance or very shortly after working out, usually at the time of the cause of the pain happening and lasts until the injury has healed which could be for an extended time.

Signs of an injury could be an acute, sharp, searing pain in your muscles or joints, and or if you have a physically visible injury including swelling and or red/blue bruising.

Lastly I wanted to mention hear about lactic acid build up. When you work out a muscle with either a repetitive motion or a static endurance position, you will get lactic acid build up (see here) which will cause an ache, this will generally be due to waste created by fatigue in the muscle and will subside soon after stopping the activity and be of no concern.

If you have concerns that you may have an injury, you should seek medical advice.

Can you treat DOMS?

You can always help a muscle recover by placing ice on the muscle, take an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen and massaging the muscles. If you can, keep the muscle moving to avoid it becoming stiff and to keep the blood flowing. DOMS is also felt more when you stretch or contract the muscle, however gentle stretching can help recovery, but don’t over stretch it, just do slow, gentle and just comfortable stretches. However if the DOMS is severe take an easy and allow your body to tell you when it needs rest to recover.

To reduce the affects of DOMS if you are suffering from it too severally, you should ease into your new workouts and work your intensity up slowly to give your muscles more time to become more accustomed to the stimulus. Do a warm-up to help prepare your muscle for its workout as you are less likely to over stretch a warmed up muscle. Do a cool down routine after your workout to aid the recovery process by increasing blood flow, which in-turn reduces inflammation. You could also try wearing compression socks post workout if you are a runner, which will maintain blood flow and reduce swelling.

Can work out a muscle with DOMS?

Yes and no. Depending on the severity of the DOMS and damage to the muscle, it could either make no difference to its recovery, delay its recovery or even make it worse. In my opinion it is best to allow the muscle to fully recover before working it again or do a low intensity and low impact exercise such as swimming or pilates/yoga.