Still Sore? How to Treat Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness After Workouts
Also known as “muscle fever”, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is pain or discomfort often felt 24 to 72 hours after exercising. Sometimes lasting as long as 2 to 3 days, DOMS was at one time thought to be caused by increased lactate concentrations. However, this is now considered to be a misconception as it has been demonstrated that elevated levels of lactic acid rarely persist after an hour of rest. |
What is DOMS?
DOMS is muscle soreness, pain or stiffness, often coming on as early as 12 hours after exercise. DOMS is particularly likely to occur at the onset of a new exercise program, a change in sports activity or a dramatic increase in the intensity or duration of one’s workout. Many people consider delayed onset muscle soreness to be merely a clinical name for not being able to move the day after a work out. In fact for some, just getting out of bed can prove difficult. For those who can manage to walk with the severe workout soreness associated with DOMS, it may feel as if they have just gotten off a horse.
This muscle pain, which is considered a normal response to any unusual exertion, is part of an adaptation process that ultimately leads to greater strength and stamina as the muscles continue to recover and rebuild. This sort of muscle soreness differs from the sort of pain one experiences during a workout. The delayed pain of DOMS also differs from the sudden, acute pain one experiences from injuries such as muscle strains or sprains.
The delayed soreness of DOMS will generally be at it’s worst within the first 2 days following the workout and will gradually subside one to two days later.
DOMS is thought to be caused by microscopic tearing of muscle fibers. The amount of tearing and soreness associated with it is dependent on how long and hard one works out in the first place. The type of exercise can also be a factor. Any sort of exercise one isn’t used to doing can put one at a risk for DOMS. In particular, eccentric muscle contractions, movements that cause a muscle to contract forcefully while lengthening, seem to result in more extreme cases with greater soreness.
DOMS typically can cause stiffness, swelling, strength loss and post workout soreness.
How to Treat DOMS
While there is no one simple way to treat delayed onset muscle soreness, traditional sports injury treatments have proven helpful. Different kinds of stretching have been used with some success in dealing with the post workout soreness associated with DOMS. However it is important to be careful any time you stretch an injured muscle. You do not want to compound the problem by overstretching it.
Various methods and treatments have been known to speed one’s recovery from DOMS. Massage has been effective in treating delayed onset muscle soreness, depending on the area affected and by the type of massage administered.
Vitamin C is known to be effective in repairing connective tissue and there are anecdotal reports that suggest antioxidant supplements can mitigate the effects of onset workout soreness in the muscles. However, none of this is confirmed by clinical trials and taking large doses of vitamin C is not recommended. In some cases it can even be harmful.
Rest, ice, compression and elevation, commonly knownn as RICE, is helpful in treating all manner of sports injuries. It has shown to be just as effective against DOMS.
Preventing Workout Soreness
Usually the post workout soreness will go away within 3 to 7 days at the most. In the case of delayed onset muscle soreness, the old adage about an ounce of prevention being better than a pound of cure couldn’t be more true. The best way to treat DOMS is to prevent it in the first place.
Common as it may be, delayed onset muscle soreness is by no means a necessary part of exercise. There are many precautions one can take to avoid, prevent and shorten the duration of DOMS. Here are a few of them:
1. Warm Up: A good warm up before any activity, as well as a good cool down afterwards, is always advised, particularly if you are undertaking a new exercise program or ratcheting up your existing regimen.
2. Follow the 10% rule: If you are starting a new activity, or again just intensifying what you do now, it’s a good idea to go slow. Build it up gradually, adding just a 10% increase in intensity a week.
3. Personal Trainer: If you are unsure how to start a fitness routine that will be safe and effective for you, it may be a good idea to hire a personal trainer.
4. Start Gradually: Especially when it comes to strength training. Any time you start a new weight lifting routine begin with light weights and a high number of reps. Then you can gradually increase the amount you lift over several weeks.
5. Avoid making any sudden changes in the type of or amount of exercise you do. And remember that certain types of muscle pain or soreness can be signs of a serious injury. If you have severe muscle soreness that doesn’t improve after one week's time, you should consult with your physician.
The most effective treatment available for delayed onset muscle soreness is simply prevent it in the first place. If you practice good common sense in your workouts, and follow some simple and easy steps, you have a better chance of avoiding delayed onset muscle soreness.