Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is something everyone reading this has probably experienced. Some feel their heaviest DOMS 24 hours after a workout, whereas others know they pay the most for their leg 2 days later. Both are normal responses to exercise.
What is DOMS?
DOMS is perceived as a dull, aching pain in the affected muscle, often combined with tenderness and stiffness. The pain is typically felt only when the muscle is stretched, contracted or put under pressure, not when it is at rest. This tenderness, a characteristic symptom of DOMS, is also referred to as “muscular mechanical hyperalgesia.” There are other working theories behind DOMS that attempt to explain the mechanism at a cellular level. Most deal with the presence of histamines, inflammation, prostaglandins, and other cellular markers of pain.
What causes DOMS?
Although the mechanism is not completely understood, the pain is thought to be a result of contractile tissue microtrauma- mechanical damage to the muscle on a very small scale. DOMS is increased with eccentric exercise (active muscle lengthening under load), as this is thought to create more microtrauma to the muscle. On the contrary, DOMS can be controlled by emphasizing concentric (contraction that shortens a muscle) only exercise for applications like training for in-season athletes.
What doesn’t cause DOMS?
It’s not Lactic Acid. Lactic Acid is a by product of cellular metabolism and it typically clears within 1 hour of exercise. The best work out does not cause the most DOMS either. DOMS is a result of exposure to new movement and new range of motion. It decreases with repeated efforts of the same workout: This specific adaptation to imposed demands is the cornerstone of a sound training program.
How do I help DOMS?
There are many anecdotal and bioscience ways to combat or reduce DOMS, including temperature manipulation, stretching, myofascial work, etc. The best researched method to improve DOMS is simple light cardio. If your legs are toast after a workout, don’t let that stop you from exercising again. It’s OK to exercise when you’re sore, just understand you might be limited and make sure to get a good warm up!
Andrew talks more about how strength gains work in his article here.
Andrew Ilieff has experience across cardio respiratory, rehabilitation, sports physiotherapy and aged care – spending an extensive period of time in private practice. For credible information on training and injury prevention check out Andrew’s Instagram page here and website and services here.