Has the energy and vigor experienced during yesterday’s workout been replaced by achy, sensitive muscles? It’s like a friendly, or maybe not so friendly, reminder of yesterday’s activity. The muscle soreness or stiffness a day or so after a workout is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and it can happen after an intense workout or new activity. This must be part of that no pain no gain thing.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
DOMS is muscle pain or discomfort often accompanied by weakness, and it can rear its ugly head around 24-48 hours after physical activity. DOMS affects everyone a little differently, but the common signs include muscle stiffness, pain, and tenderness. The symptoms usually peak after about three days and then gradually taper off. The aching is a symptom of stress put on the muscle tissue beyond what it is used to.
When the muscle fibers are stretched more than normal, and stretched repeatedly, small tears called “microtears” can occur within the muscle fibers, which can lead to inflammation. During the days after a workout, the muscle begins to rebuild itself and creates new muscle fiber, and the soreness is related to the inflammation within the muscle during this rebuilding cycle.
Any movement can lead to DOMS, but the most common causes are exercises that involve repetitive contractions of the muscle, where the muscle is contracting while being lengthened at the same time. Think of the downward motion of a bicep curl. Major culprits are activities like lifting weights, hiking, a new exercise class, and even chores we don’t do every day. DOMS may be greater after a new exercise or activity, or if the intensity is kicked up a notch, also a newbie to exercising may feel more severe DOMS than someone who hits the weights on a regular basis.
There is no simple way to treat delayed onset muscle soreness but here are a few suggestions to ease the pain:
1. Use active recovery. Perform easy low-impact exercises and stretching to increase blood flow and reduce muscle soreness.
2. Rest and recover. Simply wait it out, soreness will go away in 3 to 5 days with no special treatment.
3. Try an ice bath or ice pack. Although scientific evidence is inconclusive, many pro athletes claim they work to reduce soreness.
Some think of DOMS as an accomplishment, others liken it to an offensive tax that nature puts on exercising, but either way it is a natural effect of exercise. (Should the pain remain constant for longer than a few days, medical advice may be in order.)