Delayed onset muscle soreness, more commonly known as DOMS, is one of two types of soreness we sometimes experience when working out.
The other type is called acute muscle soreness, which you feel during or shortly after a workout and that disappears again soon after. This type of muscle soreness is caused by the buildup of fluids and resolves fairly quickly.
DOMS is the kind of sneaky, longer-lasting soreness that shows up the day after a workout, can peak between 24-72 hours after and can last anywhere from one to seven days.
DOMS seems to be most associated with eccentric muscle movement. Eccentric movement is when force is put on a muscle while it is being lengthened. For example, when lowering the weight after a bicep curl or when running downhill. This is in contrast to concentric movement, like the curling up of the weight in a bicep curl or walking up stairs. DOMS also show up when performing a new exercise or when you increase the load or intensity of a known exercise.
DOMS are thought to be caused by damaged muscle, specifically the disruption of muscle fibrils, particularly at the myotendinous junction, where there are also large concentrations of pain receptors; Hence why it hurts! Intense exercise can cause little tears in the muscle and that leads to pain. This also is a stimulus for the muscle to repair itself and it does so to make the muscle stronger and more apt to be able to deal with the load in the future. This is one of the reasons why conditioned athletes do not usually experience severe DOMS, but the weekend warriors do.
Most of us have been taught that the buildup of lactic acid is what is responsible for muscle soreness, however this does not seem to be the case. Lactic acid buildup only occurs with acute muscle soreness, and it goes away within a few hours of the workout. This is why things like stretching and icing, while important in relieving acute muscle soreness, are not very effective for relieving DOMS.
So besides being painful, why are DOMS bad? DOMS can impair a person’s progress as while suffering from DOMS, there is a reduced ability to produce force which means less ability to train at the intensity it takes to make the desired gains. Additionally, the decrease in muscle strength while experiencing DOMS can lead to poor form which can lead to injury. This is why it is important to take adequate recovery time or to alternate muscle groups in a way that allows muscle recovery and start slowly with new movements and gradually increase load and intensity. Prevention is the best cure.
DOMS can be your body letting you know that something isn’t right such as improper form or that you tried to progress too quickly. Let them be a signal that you need to pay attention to either your form or if the load you are trying to work with is too much and you need to adjust for the time being. It is also important to distinguish DOMS from an acute muscle injury. DOMS usually presents as diffuse muscle pain and develops 12 to 24 hours after activity, and it usually affects multiple limbs and is exacerbated by eccentric (lengthening) movements. An acute muscle tear or strain, usually causes immediate focal pain and is exacerbated by concentric contractions. DOMS usually resolves within 7 days without any specific treatment.
If you are experiencing DOMS, try and stay active with low-intensity exercises like walking and yoga. To prevent DOMS, it is important to gradually increase load (weight) and volume (amount) of exercise, especially with new exercises. I often recommend my clients start with body weight if they are not conditioned and start with lower reps or sets and gradually build these up to help minimize DOMS and risk of injury.
Have you ever experienced DOMS? Comment below!