It’s simple. Exercise, and challenging the body in new ways, produces measurable results (i.e. improvements in strength, endurance, flexibility, agility, balance and stability). The more effectively you challenge your body, where the exercise safely challenges its limitations, the greater the physical response you will achieve. Unfortunately, effective exercise has a price … muscle soreness.
What is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) typically develops 12 to 24 hours after an exercise is performed, with the greatest degree of pain and discomfort occurring between 24 to 72 hours afterwards. DOMS is not the same as pain and discomfort from an acute injury or severe trauma to the body. DOMS occurs as a result of microscopic damage to muscle fibers that are challenged during exercise. One common misconception is that DOMS occurs as a result of lactic acid accumulation. Lactic acid is not a part of the repair process.
Activities that cause DOMS all cause muscles to lengthen against an applied force (i.e. eccentric muscle contraction). An example of this would be landing and absorbing your body weight when jumping down from an elevated height or lowering the weight in the downward phase of a bicep curl. The degree of soreness is based upon:
- The types of forces applied to the muscle
- The number of repetitions
Everyone is susceptible to DOMS, even the most experienced exerciser. However, the severity of the soreness becomes less as your body is more accustomed to it. Your body develops a protective effect in the affected area for weeks or months afterwards when you work the same muscles again at a later time.
Other physical characteristics of DOMS include:
- Swelling of the affected limbs
- Stiffness of the affected joint
- Tenderness to the touch
- Temporary reduction of strength (which could last days)
Common activities that can cause DOMS include:
- Strength training (resistance training)
- Walking/running down hills
- Step aerobics
Preventing Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
One of the best ways to reduce the severity of DOMS is by progressing slowly into a new exercise program. Giving your muscles time to adapt to new challenges should help minimize the extent of the symptoms (although not completely avoiding the pain and discomfort). There are additional ways to prevent DOMS before, during and after your workouts.
Things to Do BEFORE Your Exercise Session
- Take in enough hydration.
- Take in proper nutrition to adequately fuel your body for work and recovery.
- Get adequate sleep the night before your session.
Things to Do DURING Your Exercise Session
- Properly warm up before you exercise.
- Exercise at an intensity that is right for your current ability.
- Ensure you include enough rest in between each exercise set.
- Stretch and cool down at the end of your workout.
Things to Do AFTER Your Exercise Session
- Take in adequate nutrition within 30 minutes of completing your workout (to fuel the recovery process).
- Include active recovery exercise on the days between workouts.
Although there are several ways to reduce the symptoms of DOMS, these strategies do not necessarily result in a faster recovery. Treatments to manage the symptoms of DOMS include:
- Ice pack application
- Pain medication (i.e. Advil, Tylenol)
Final Thoughts …
When beginning a new exercise program (or starting up a workout regime after several weeks or months off) it is unlikely that you will avoid soreness altogether. This is especially true if you challenge your body effectively to promote physical improvements and change. But maintaining a consistent exercise schedule will not only benefit your physical improvement over time, it will also help you to avoid the severity of pain and discomfort of DOMS.
For more information about delayed onset muscle soreness, click here to access information from the American College of Sports Medicine.