Delayed muscle soreness (DOMS) is when muscle pain or stiffness develops a day or two after exercise. DOMS is a normal response to unusual exertion and is part of the adaptation process. Learn more about why DOMS happens.
Although DOMS is most common when just started exercising, it can happen to anyone who has increased the duration or intensity of an exercise routine.
Causes of DOMS
DOMS is due to increased stress in muscle fibers as you exert them too much. It can also happen if you engage in movements your muscles are not used to, such as new training.
Eccentric muscle contractions, in which the muscle contracts when extended, are the type most commonly associated with DOMS. Examples include going down stairs, running downhill, lowering weights, doing deep squats, and lowering yourself during push-ups.
Treatment of DOMS
There is no easy way to treat muscle sores with delayed onset. While gentle stretching, vibration therapy, and even immersion in ice water have been suggested as affordable alternatives, most studies have contradicted whether these work.
Finally, personal experience will dictate which one works best. Methods commonly used by athletes include:
- Active recovery involves using low-performance aerobic exercise immediately after a workout to increase blood flow to overworked muscles. The increased blood supply can also help relieve inflammation.
- Many professional athletes swear an ice or contrast water bath; it provides a “quick fix” cooling of inflamed or overworked muscles.
- RICE (rest/ice/compression/elevation) is used to treat acute injuries, but it may be appropriate for DOMS if you feel you have severely exaggerated it.
- Sports massage will increase blood flow to the muscles and reduce the severity of stiffness and swelling.
Preventing DOMS requires listening to your body and noticing when an exercise goes from stress to pain. It’s a sign that you’re exaggerating.
Prevention also means starting training properly. One main reason overexertion occurs is that the muscles are tight before exercising. If they are not adequately warmed up and you go straight into training, the muscles are less able to stretch and can be injured, sometimes severely.
To avoid DOMS and reduce the risk of acute injuries (such as sprains or strains):
- Follow the 10% rule, where you do not increase activity more than 10% per week. This applies to your training routine’s distance, intensity, and time.
- Progress reasonable. While it may be wise to gain more significant muscle quickly, taking the slow and steady route can not only prevent injury, it can lead you to your goal faster. If you push too hard or use too heavy weights, you will more likely than not do the exercise wrong.
- Continually heat and cool. The cooling helps regulate blood flow and can relieve inflammation and buildup of lactic acid.