Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

We have all heard the expression “No pain, no gain,” which still seems to be a motivational phrase traveling throughout many gyms and training facilities. Of course, severe, debilitating pain is never a good thing, and it can also indicate a possible serious injury. On the other hand, moderate to intense muscle soreness is a welcome sensation for many athletes and workout buffs. Even further; Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, otherwise known as DOMS, is a great reminder of a job well done.

So regular muscle soreness during exercise is simply the reactive feeling one experiences once his exercise has extended past the normal range of his body, and his muscles become fatigued. Some people will be more apt to feel this type of soreness during exercise over others, which is often quite markedly based on the level of fitness they are already accustomed to, as well as what kind of shape they are in (or out). Delayed onset muscle soreness is totally different. It typically has an onset between 24-48 hours, but it arrives more commonly on the second day after an intense workout. Delayed onset muscle soreness can often be described as severe muscle soreness. Some people experience a level of soreness that restricts their normal everyday functions such as walking down stairs easily, bending down, even simply walking. It is a result of a workout that pushes the body past its normal capacity. This, in turn, causes microscopic tears in the muscle fibers, and causes inflammation and pain. It is relative to compare the extent of the workout to the level of pain to follow, along with the number of days it may last. DOMS usually sticks around for a few days and then completely vanishes, leaving this a self inhibiting condition that does not need a physician’s care, nor should it be an overly alarming experience. Of course, for those who are new to exercise, it may be an absolutely unwelcome surprise that burdens the activities of everyday life for a while; in the same token it should be a welcome one because it is an “in your face” reminder that you have work to do, all the while that you have effectively begun it.

Many people let the pain of DOMS deter them from their projected workout regimen. This is the worst injustice one can do for himself. Instead, allow the muscles to recuperate. This usually takes a total of 3-7 days. Then pick back up and keep on trudging. Though there haven’t been any miraculous discoveries as to the exact cause of, or an utterly effective treatment of, delayed onset muscle soreness, certain responsive actions are taken by some in an attempt to relieve the pain. First of all, though research has shown that stretching does not speed up the muscles’ recovery, it may help prevent the severity of pain brought on by DOMS if you stretch before and after your exercise. This helps warm the muscles up and elongates them to prevent possible injury in general, and also may help simply by increasing a bit of blood flow to the areas that are about to be stressed. Secondly, though intense exercise should be put off until the damaged muscles have healed, light aerobic exercise such as simple jogging may help speed the recovery process by increasing that much-needed oxygen and blood flow to the afflicted areas. This has been one of the only known tactics that has scientific support behind its effectiveness. On the other hand, it is still not a cure-all. Another technique many elite athletes practice is ice baths. Though it is painful to even think about, the temporary freeze of about 10-20 minutes is well worth shrinking the delay in getting back to work on your body. Again, this is very popular to some of the best athletes in the world who cannot afford to take 3 days off for recovery. Other suggestions entail using a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen. This may help reduce the swelling of the muscle, but will not speed up the actual time it takes to rebuild it. The RICE technique or contrasting hot/cold compresses is another suggested tip to relieve some of the soreness. Some even swear by massage, though this is a much more costly endeavor.

All in all, DOMS is nothing to frown about. Though the pain can be agonizing and more irritating than anything; it is actually a positive indicator that your exercise has worked well for you. In order to build stronger muscles, they must first be broken down. The delayed onset muscle soreness you feel days later is indicative that you have broken down the muscles you intended on working, and they are now in their recovery stage so you can do it all over again. Note: if you do not feel pain, it does not mean you have not done an extensive enough workout. People’s bodies are very different and they respond to physical activity in a variety of ways. On the other hand, if you are experiencing severe sharp or chronic pains resonating particularly around joints, this is most likely an injury and should be checked out as soon as possible. Injuries are always bad and need immediate attention in order to prevent an ongoing problem. The bottom line is this: don’t let muscle soreness, specifically DOMS, stop you from continuing your workout regimen. Rather, let this be the encouragement you need to continue pushing towards a future that leaves you in such great shape that your workouts will no longer cause any pain what so ever! Of course, by that point, you will want to change, increase, and further explore your body’s capacity by pushing for that eventually welcomed sensation of pain all over again! Let’s face it, the more you push, the more you feel, the more this totally normal, healthy pain is likely to grow on you.