Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS, is that harsh, sometimes debilitating, pain that can occur 24-48 hours after a new activity. No one is immune from DOMS, from the very beginning athlete to the most seasoned. The exact causes of DOMS are difficult to pinpoint.
We’ve all been there – after starting a new exercise program or simply stepping up the intensity of our current one, the next day or two (sometimes three) we really feel it!! This pain is different from that which may be felt during exercise. Sharp pain experienced during exercise could be an indication of muscle strain or injury and should be treated in an entirely different way. Muscle injury requires ice and rest, whereas treatment of DOMS does not. Remember, DOMS is “delayed-onset” discomfort and does not appear immediately during or right after exercise. It can take anywhere from 12-48 hours after exercise for muscles to feel sore, and that soreness generally dissipates in 3-5 days. The pain from DOMS can also be accompanied by reduced flexibility and swelling.
So, if DOMS is not caused by injury, what actually makes your muscles feel sore? At one time it was thought that delayed-onset muscle soreness was caused by as buildup of lactate, or lactic acid, in your muscles. Lactate, along with other metabolites, is a product of metabolism and is increased as muscle cells work harder during exercise. These metabolites can cause a burning sensation during sustained exercise, but then dissipate quickly during recovery from muscle exertion. Because the buildup and drop in lactic acid occurs during and immediately after exercise, it is no longer considered the culprit in delayed-onset muscle soreness. It is long gone from the system by the time the soreness appears.
Many theories have been proposed and studies conducted to determine the causes of DOMS. Most research shows that DOMS may be caused by microtrauma, or tiny tears, in the connective tissue surrounding muscle, and these microscopic injuries are mostly the result of eccentric exercise. Concentric exercise is tension placed on a muscle in the shortening phase, like the lifting in a biceps curl. Eccentric exercise is tension placed on a muscle in the lengthening phase, like the lowering in a biceps curl. This eccentric exercise is most often demonstrated in resistance training, downhill running, and plyometrics.
No one intervention is consistent in effectively avoiding DOMS or diminishing its effects once acquired. The typical treatments for muscle injury or strain do not apply to DOMS, and actually may interfere with the way the body repairs itself. Ice has no effect and rest only increases the stiffness that comes with DOMS. Aspirin and ibuprofen (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), nutritional, coenzyme-Q, and L-carnitine have been shown ineffective in relieving or shortening the duration of DOMS symptoms.
The good news is there is some evidence that the effects of DOMS can be mitigated by a gradual increase in new exercise activity that involves eccentric exercise. Under certain parameters, appropriate warm-up may also help to decrease incidence of DOMS. Also, the muscles that have experienced soreness due to specific exercise intensity adapt to that intensity quickly. This is called the repeated-bout effect. As opposed to muscle strain or injury, in DOMS it may be painful to begin exercise while your muscles are sore but the pain should subside and your muscles will adapt to the new intensity. After the initial soreness, muscles generally do not experience soreness again until the intensity is increased again. So if you are experiencing delayed-onset muscle soreness, be encouraged to continue exercises that increase blood flow to the affected muscles and know that whatever you do it will go away in 3-5 days.
SusieInstructor, Cumming Kickboxing Classes
Choe's HapKiDo of Cumming and Suwanee
3020 Old Atlanta Rd.
Cumming, GA 30041