DOMS stands for delayed-onset muscle soreness.
Any exercise can cause DOMS when you start a new routine or increase the intensity, but exercises that require eccentric muscle contraction, in particular, are more likely to cause DOMS. Eccentric contraction is the muscle’s contraction to bear load against gravity while being lengthened.
Following are some examples of eccentric muscle contraction:
- The controlled lowering of the arm in weight training exercises such as bicep curls
- Downhill running when the quads lengthen and brace against gravity
- Downward motion in squats
- Downward motion in pushups
Concentric contraction, on the other hand, is contraction while the muscle is shortened. Eccentric contraction is a more efficient way than concentric contraction to exercise a muscle because it uses less energy to work harder. Though beneficial, eccentric concentration is also more likely to cause DOMS because it places more stress on the muscle.
What is DOMS?
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the muscle pain you feel after a workout. DOMS does not occur during a workout but typically starts after a day, peaks after 24 to 72 hours, and starts easing up after that. DOMS may last up to five days, and anything longer is not normal.
What is the main cause of DOMS?
The main cause of DOMS is a combination of microscopic tears in the muscle fibers that result from a workout and the muscle’s response to repair the damage. Tiny muscle tears occur when muscles are stressed more than they are used to, or in a new way. The muscle tissue releases enzymes to repair the tears, which results in inflammation and soreness.
Contrary to a belief earlier held, the lactic acid buildup can cause pain during a workout, but it is not the cause of DOMS. Lactic acid builds up when the muscle does not get enough oxygen to break it down, which causes cramps and muscle fatigue. The pain goes away in a few hours with rest and hydration, unlike DOMS which occurs later and lasts longer.
DOMS can happen to anyone, regardless of fitness levels, when the muscles are challenged in a way they are not accustomed to. Even elite athletes can develop DOMS when they start training after a break, or when they increase their training intensity.
Is DOMS a good sign?
Muscle soreness is commonly equated with a good workout, but DOMS need not always be a good sign. Soreness does indicate that the muscle has been worked, which encourages and motivates you to continue with the activity, but it is also important to be aware of how much soreness is beneficial. If it makes you too sore to carry on with your daily activities, it is too much.
Muscle strength grows with exercise even if you do not feel any soreness. Excessive or persistent soreness is detrimental to muscle recovery and can, in fact, negate the benefit from exercise and affect your athletic performance. If ignored, persistent soreness can also damage the capacity of the muscle to repair and grow strong.
Is it okay to work out through DOMS?
Soreness from DOMS is temporary and it is perfectly fine to work out through DOMS so long as the ache is moderate. Keeping those muscles active, in fact, is beneficial because it improves the blood supply and speeds up healing. You can do gentle exercises like walking or swimming until the soreness subsides or rest for a day or so if activity increases the pain.
How do you prevent DOMS?
It may not be possible to prevent DOMS, but you can reduce the severity by gradually increasing the intensity when you start a new exercise routine. Warming up before, and cooling down, and stretching after an intensive workout can greatly help in relaxing the muscles and reducing soreness.
Varying your daily workout routine by cross-training with exercises that engage different groups of muscles may be another good way to handle DOMS. Cross-training allows your muscles recovery time between workouts, without disrupting your training.
How do you treat DOMS?
DOMS usually does not require treatment and will go away on its own. The best thing for DOMS is to keep those muscles moving unless the pain is intolerable. Other things that can help reduce DOMS include:
- Gentle massage to relax the muscles and improve their blood flow.
- Use of a foam roller which can loosen up the knotted muscles.
- Wearing compression clothing, which many athletes say improves blood flow and reduces pain, though there is no conclusive evidence for this.
- Applying ice packs that can numb the nerve endings in the muscle.
- Alternating hot and cold showers.
- Topical application of pain-relief balms.
Current research suggests non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Aleve and Motrin are not effective for DOMS. Further, preventing inflammation with NSAIDs is self-defeating the purpose of the exercise, because Inflammation is the central process in muscle growth and strengthening.
- You should, however, see a doctor if:
- You have unbearable pain
- Your pain lasts longer than a week
- You have swelling in the arms and legs
- Your urine becomes dark despite hydration