Delayed onset muscle soreness

Have you ever felt sore after starting a new activity or pushing yourself harder than usual during a workout? If yes, then you have delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS – muscle pain, muscle fever, muscle soreness or muscle stiffness.

You might think of the aches you feel after exercising as “good pain”- a virtuous reminder that you’re working hard to keep your body in shape. This is common when beginning a new exercise programme, changing your exercise routine, or increasing the duration or intensity of your regular workout.

The soreness usually increases in intensity in the first 24 hours after exercise. It peaks from 24 to 72 hours, then subsides and disappears after a couple of  days after exercise. In addition to small muscle tears there can be associated swelling in a muscle which may contribute to soreness.

This sort of muscle pain should not be confused with any kind of pain you might experience during exercise, such as the acute, sudden and sharp pain of an injury, such as muscle strains or sprains.

The pain after exercise will decrease as your muscles get used to the new physical demands being placed upon them. You may exercise with DOMS, although it may feel uncomfortable, especially during the warm-up phase. You may find the pain goes away during the workout – your muscles become more flexible if they have more open capillaries  – but it will return after.

According to a study in muscular soreness¹, the pain is caused by microscopic tearing of the muscle fibres( Z-line) of the muscle sarcomere(see picture). The amount of tearing (and soreness) depends on how hard and how long you exercise and what type of exercise you do.


The main types of contractions

• concentric – the muscle is shortening;

• eccentric – the muscle is lengthening;

• isometric – the muscle is keeping his length.

The soreness is caused mostly by eccentric exercise contractions of the muscle. Isometric ( or static) exercise causes much less soreness and concentric exercise causes none. Examples of eccentric muscle contractions include going down stairs, running downhill, lowering weights and the downward motion of any anti-gravitation exercise: squats, push-ups, pull-ups.

Anyone can develop DOMS, even those who have been exercising for many years. If elite athletes change their training program, they will get muscle soreness.

If you do find yourself sore after a workout or competition, try the following methods to deal with your discomfort. Although not all are backed up with research, many athletes report success, including myself.

What to do?

  1. Rest – just wait and the soreness will go away with no special treatment.
  2. Active recovery – low intensity exercise may be better than complete rest.
  3. Gentle stretching – some people find it comfortable to do an easy stretch.

If you want to apply cold please be careful when using ice directly on skin. Ice treatments are generally recommended for 15-20 minute per application, max 3-4 times a day.

Immersion in cool or icy water was found to be ineffective in DOMS in one study(read more), but effective in another(read more).

It’s always better to listen to your body and avoid any vigorous activity or exercise that increases pain.

How to prevent the soreness in the future?

  1. Warm up before at the beginning of your workout using dynamic stretches and low intensity exercises.
  2. Have a slowly progress and gradually increase your exercise time and intensity.
  3. Cool down completely after the workout and stretch your muscles for 10-15 seconds(each).

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 doctor.

If you aren’t sure how to start a workout program that is safe and effective for you, use the services and I will do my best to help you.
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