DOMS (Delayed Muscle Soreness) is muscle pain that begins after exercise. It usually starts a day or two after a workout. You will usually not feel delayed muscle soreness during a workout.
Muscle soreness is the burning sensation you feel in a muscle during a workout due to a rapid accumulation of metabolites during intense training. It usually disappears as soon or shortly after you stop exercising.
Is it DOMS?
Symptoms usually occur at least 12 to 24 hours after a workout. The pain peaks about one to three days after the exercise and subsides afterward.
Symptoms of DOMS may include:
- Feel sore muscles to the touch
- reduced range of motion due to pain and stiffness during movement
- swelling of the affected muscles
- muscle fatigue
- short-term loss of muscle strength
What causes DOMS?
High-intensity exercise can cause small, microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. Your body responds by increasing the inflammation, leading to a delayed onset of muscle soreness.
Virtually all high-intensity exercise can cause DOMS, but one type, in particular, known as eccentric exercise, often triggers it.
Eccentric exercises make you tense a muscle while extending it.
For example, the controlled, downward movement when you straighten your forearm after a biceps curl is an eccentric movement. The way your quads tense up as they run downhill is also an unnatural movement.
Who can experience DOMS?
Delayed muscle soreness can affect just about anyone, from elite athletes to beginners, to people who have not trained for a long time.
So, regardless of fitness level, DOMS can strike when you increase your training intensity, perform eccentric exercises or try a new type of exercise your body is not used to.
Keep moving to ease sore, stiff muscles
You may be tempted to avoid all exercise and movement when DOMS strikes, but unless it is severe, hitting the couch for the day can only aggravate the pain and stiffness, not relieve it.
Listen to your body. If DOMS is wrong, you may need to take a day of complete rest to give your muscles a chance to repair.
At a minimum, you will skip all kinds of high-intensity cardio or strength training sessions when you are sore. It can only aggravate and delay your recovery from DOMS.
Think about trying a little gentle movement throughout the day. It will not speed up your recovery, but it may reduce the soreness. Try gentle yoga or walking, cycling, or swimming with low to moderate intensity to keep your muscles moving.
Can you prevent DOMS?
You may not avoid DOMS together, but you can take steps to reduce the intensity. Try these tips:
- One study found that men exercising in hot, humid temperatures had a significant drop in muscle sores when they drank water before, during, and after exercise, compared to men who did not hydrate.
- Warm-up. Use 5 to 10 minutes before each workout on some dynamic stretching. Skip the static stretching until after the training.
- Calm down. In a study from 2012, a 20-minute cooling of low-intensity cycling after a strength training session in the lower body led to reduced soreness in the quadriceps muscle two days later. Always end the cooling with a little static stretching. It will not reduce DOMS, but it can increase flexibility in joints and muscles.
- Take it slow. Take your workouts to the next intensity level, one small step at a time. It can help you safely build your strength and endurance while minimizing the effects of DOMS.