What is and what causes it?
Whether you work out regularly or have simply over exerted yourself occasionally, it is almost certain that you have at some point experienced delayed onset of muscle soreness, or DOMS for short.
DOMS is the feeling of muscle soreness, stiffness, loss of strength and sometimes swelling that occurs in the period following exercise, normally twenty four to seventy two hours later, though it may occur a little sooner. It is a normal response to unaccustomed activity and most commonly occurs when you are not used to exercising, or are beginning a new workout routine and may occur after each work out until your muscles become used to the work that you are asking them to do.
The mechanism that causes DOMS has been theorized but remains unproven; however it is known to occur more frequently in exercises that involve eccentric muscular action. That is, movement in which the muscle fibers are being made to lengthen at the same time as they contract, an example of which would be running down hill or the downwards movement in a squat.
Our top tips for avoiding DOMS:
- Warm up – at least 3 minutes of aerobic activity before beginning any new exercise regime
- Don’t overdo it – if you are new to exercise start slowly and increase weight/duration gradually
- Cool down – be sure to cool down with some light aerobic activity and then stretch each body part that you have used
The best situation where DOMS is concerned is to avoid it, or reduce the chances of it happening to a minimum. A good warm up before you begin more intensive training is important, as is a good cool down and stretching routine after your training is complete. Massage following your work out has also shown benefit, with up to a thirty percent reduction in swelling and soreness.
It’s not advisable to dive straight into an intense workout routine. Instead building up slowly but surely allows your body to get used to and adapt to the increase in what you are asking of it. An increase in activity of around ten percent each week is advisable.
There are times when you are unable to avoid DOMS, for instance when the increased activity was not intentional but the result of other requirements in your life. Yet regardless of whether DOMS are as the result of intentional activity or not, you will still want to find some relief from it.
For some people, increasing blood flow to the area can help. This can be achieved by gentle aerobic exercise that doesn’t require the muscles to bear weight. For other people alternating warmth and cold can help, either in the form of baths or cold and heat packs.
None steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen (paracetamol) are somewhat controversial as their benefit in preventing or treating DOMS is unproven, and because the medications themselves have side affects that are undesirable.
Lastly it is important to consider the fact that if your muscles are sore then they need to rest. Repeating the activity that caused the pain initially may cause it to continue for a longer period of time, so waiting until pain has subsided is preferred. Some athletes swear by working through the pain but not only is this unpleasant, but with the loss of strength that occurs your performance will not be at its best. Instead gentle, non-weight bearing aerobics may alleviate stiffness and keep you from being sedentary.