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Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) describes a phenomenon of muscle pain, muscle soreness or muscle stiffness that occurs in the day or two after exercise. This muscle soreness is most frequently felt when you begin a new exercise program, change your exercise routine, or dramatically increase the duration or intensity of your exercise routine. Although it can be alarming for new exercisers, delayed onset muscle soreness is a normal response to unusual exertion and is part of an adaptation process that leads to greater stamina and strength as the muscles recover and build hypertrophy). This sort of muscle pain is not the same as the muscle pain or fatigue you experience during exercise. Delayed soreness is also unlike the acute, sudden and sharp pain of an injury such as a muscle strains or sprain that occurs during activity and often causes swelling or bruising. The delayed muscle soreness of DOMS is generally at its worst within the first 2 days following a new, intense activity and slowly subsides over the next few days.  

What Causes Muscle Soreness After Exercise?

Delayed onset muscle soreness is thought to be a result of microscopic tearing of the muscle fibers. The amount of tearing (and soreness) depends on how hard and how long you exercise and what type of exercise you do. Any movement you aren’t used to can lead to DOMS, but eccentric muscle contractions (movements that cause muscle to forcefully contract while it lengthens) seem to cause the most soreness. Examples of eccentric muscle contractions include going down stairs, running downhill, lowering weights and the downward motion of squats and push-ups. In addition to small muscle tears there can be associated swelling in a muscle which may contribute to soreness.  

What Is the Best Treatment for Muscle Soreness After Exercise?

There is no one simple way to treat delayed onset muscle soreness. In fact, there has been an ongoing debate about both the cause and treatment of DOMS. In the past, gentle stretching was one of the recommended ways to reduce exercise related muscle soreness, but a study by Australian researchers published in 2007 found that stretching is not effective in avoiding muscle soreness. So does anything work to reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness? Nothing is proven 100 percent effective and although some people have found the following advice helpful, it’s best to try a few things to see what works for you. Ultimately, best advice for treating DOMS is to prevent it in the first place.