Prevention & Relief of Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) – aka, the “all my muscles hurt” syndrome – is a normal reaction to any unfamiliar or intense exercise. Chances are, we have all experienced it (even if we did not know there was an official name for it). Maybe you attribute it to that familiar burn that comes a day after working your muscles hard at the gym. Or the achy joints and stiff muscles that come after a long day of hiking in your favorite spot.
If you wake up in the morning to find your muscles are screaming at you in agony, what you may be dealing with is DOMS.
What Causes Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness?
If you are the type of person who likes to hit it hard at the gym or go into full-blown weekend warrior mode, you likely have experienced DOMS.
Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness is caused by tiny, microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. Usually, those tears are from engaging in high-intensity interval exercise (HIIT). Maybe you were trying a new move or using a muscle group you previously neglected. You may feel the pain immediately as the muscle fibers tear, or it may take a few hours to a full day for the pain to kick in.
Your body perceives this kind of exercise as an attack and immediately goes into defense mode. We all know what that means: inflammation. What it means for you is double trouble. Not only are you now dealing with the muscle tears that caused the initial pain, but also the inflammation as your body works to “heal” the original injury.
There is some evidence that certain people are genetically predisposed to DOMS. Research has identified a genetic variation in people who are more prone to intense soreness following a hard workout.
Symptoms of Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness
Muscle soreness after an intense workout is normal. Pain so bad it keeps you from moving around normally is not. Sometimes called “muscle fever,” DOMS can make your arm and leg muscles feel extremely weak. That is just one of the many signs you may be dealing with DOMS. Here are some of the other more common symptoms associated with the condition.
- Muscles that are tender to the touch
- Pain and stiffness that reduces the range of motion
- Muscle swelling in affected areas
- Muscles that feel fatigued
- Lower back pain
- Short-term depletion of muscle strength and control
Are Some Exercises a Higher Risk for Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness?
We have already discussed that HIIT-style exercises often trigger DOMS. “Eccentric exercise” is another key risk factor. This is the name given to any exercise that both tenses and lengthens a muscle at the same time. Eccentric exercises are great for muscle growth and development for three reasons:
- They require less oxygen consumption
- They use greater force production
- They use less energy expenditure
A perfect example of an eccentric exercise is a bicep curl. It uses a controlled, downward motion (tension) combined with the effort to straighten your forearm (lengthen). Some other common eccentric exercises include downhill running, the downward motion of squatting, and calf raises.
Other Risk Factors for Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness
Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness does not discriminate. From exercise newbs to elite athletes, DOMS can strike at any time. Certain risk factors make a person more susceptible.
If you are relatively fresh on the workout scene, be especially careful you do not push your muscles too hard right out of the gate. It is great you have committed to getting in shape and being healthy. Do not let that desire for a healthier you end in a painful DOMS setback. Be sure to start out slowly and give your muscles time to get used to your new routine. It might be best to avoid engaging in HIIT until you are farther along in your exercise journey.
Experienced athletes also are at risk. Just because you have exercised for years does not mean cannot fall victim to DOMS. Trying a new technique or pushing yourself too hard on a particular day is all it can take for DOMS to strike hard.
Added Risks of Home Workouts
Working out at home also is a risk factor for DOMS. Thanks to an ongoing global pandemic, many of us are avoiding public gyms and community centers. That leaves us to our own devices at home. Exercisers tend to get sloppy when they work out at home, including not wearing the proper footwear for support. Home workouts can get into a bit of a rut due to a lack of equipment, which increases the chances of injury due to complacency when working out.
If you are new to working out, go slow to avoid overuse injuries. Many trainers are offering online sessions and consults. Do not be afraid to reach out to one to have a customized home workout designed to meet your specific needs and goals.
Does Lactic Acid Build-Up Cause Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness?
This is a common misconception. Lactic acid is the normal byproduct of muscle metabolism. When your muscles have that “I just worked out” feel to them, you can thank lactic acid. It accumulates in the muscles during a workout. When it is released, it can irritate your muscles and make them feel sore.
Lactic acid may contribute to Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness, but it is not what makes DOMS so painful. You can thank inflammation for the extra aching that elevates post-workout “sore” to DOMS level.
The lemonade from this lemon is that as you progress in your fitness level, you can expect less tissue damage, less soreness, and faster recovery times. Your muscles will get used to your new routine and adjust accordingly. There always is a risk of DOMS with any new intense exercise you try, so be prepared to allow yourself adequate recovery time if this happens.
Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness Prevention
The jury is still out on whether you can effectively prevent Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness. There are several theories on things you can do to help. While none of them are a guarantee of keeping DOMS at bay, it certainly cannot hurt to try any of them.
Drink more water
Drinking water is a great healthy practice, even if Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness prevention is not your main goal. Research suggests that dehydration is more likely to lead to muscle injury and soreness before and after a workout. Drinking water ensures richly oxygenated blood makes it to your muscles where it is needed most for recovery.
Increase your circulation
One of the best ways to increase your circulation is by exercising in a hot, humid environment. Blood flow is increased, which is crucial to getting enough oxygen to muscles during a workout. DOMS may not be totally prevented this way, but the level and duration of the pain can be greatly reduced.
- Cool it down. Emphasis is placed on warming up before exercising to help protect yourself from injuries. Some studies suggest that cooling down properly adds an extra layer of protection against DOMS.
Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness Treatment & Recovery
The good news is, DOMS is not dangerous. Sure, it hurts like the dickens when you are in the throes of it. On the plus side, it is a sign your muscles are becoming stronger and more resilient. There is some truth to the “no pain, no gain” mantra where DOMS is concerned. If it strikes, do not get discouraged.
The bad news is, there is no quick fix for DOMS. It takes muscles on average 3 to 5 days to fully recover following an intense workout. There are some treatments you can use to help ease your pain during recovery from Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness. Here are our top five recommendations:
- Apply a topical pain reliever like Premiere’s Pain Spray Mist. It can soothe aching muscles and help you move around more freely. Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen are ineffective in helping DOMS and can even pose some dangers.
- Take some magnesium. It helps your body use both glucose and lactic acid, which will reduce the severity of pain in your muscles. There are several top-quality magnesium supplements on the market. Foods rich in magnesium include avocados, nuts, legumes, tofu, seeds, whole grains, and some fatty fish.
- Get a massage. Post-exercise massage can significantly reduce pain and help oxygenate the muscles more efficiently.
- Eat some tart cherries. An interesting study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that drinking tart cherry juice five days before, the day of, and 48 hours following a marathon helped runners reduce muscle soreness.
- Keep moving. While it is important to rest sore muscles, that is not an excuse to sit around and do nothing. Gentling moving – yoga, stretching, walking – are all great ways to ease sore muscles and keep them from stiffening up between workouts.
Is it Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness or an Injury?
While DOMS is an unfortunate fact of life, it does not mean that all muscle pain should be ignored. Sometimes that intense, burning pain you are feeling requires the attention of a medical professional. If the pain is sharp and intense, it is most likely not DOMS. If it is lingering after 3-5 days, do not ignore it and hope it will go away. Reach out to your doctor and get it checked out. Exercising when injured can cause a prolonged setback. It is better to be safe than sorry.Take care. Stay well.