Have you ever had a great exercise session and then 24- 48 hours later tried to lift your arm up to turn off the alarm in the morning and felt as if someone has been sitting them all night?? Or had to psych yourself up just to get out of a chair (or off the toilet) because your legs hurt so much?? If the answer is yes then don’t worry as I know your pain (literally!) all too well.
That feeling is known as DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness. 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.
DOMS is a natural process that the body starts following intense exercise. It usually starts 24 to 48 hours after an exercise session and decreases after approximately 72 hours.
It is thought to be a result of microscopic tearing of the muscle fibres caused by activity. The amount of tearing (and soreness) depends on how hard and how long you exercised and what type of exercise you did. Many researchers believe it is inflammation that comes after the microscopic tearing that results in the ‘delayed’ part of DOMS. After microscopic muscle injury, immune cells go to the site of injury to ‘clean things up’ – in other words, repair the damage—which results in the inflammation and pain. This, believe it or not, is a good thing as the body repairing means it is adapting. This in turn means that the muscles are becoming bigger and stronger.
Any movement you are not used to can lead to DOMS, but eccentric muscle contractions seem to cause the most soreness.
A muscle contracts eccentrically when it lengthens under tension during exercise. For example, during a bicep curl, the bicep muscle lengthens during the (eccentric) lowering movement. Other examples of eccentric muscle contractions include going down stairs, running downhill, lowering weights and the downward movement of squats and push-ups.
What Is the Best Treatment for Muscle Soreness After Exercise?
Nothing has been proven 100 percent effective and although some people find the following helpful, it’s best to try a few things to see what works for you.
• Use Active Recovery – this does have support in some research. Performing easy low-impact aerobic exercise increasing blood flow is linked with diminished muscle soreness. This is believed to be due to oxygen and nutrients being delivered to the muscles which aids in repair and recovery.
• Try a Sports Massage – some research has found that sports massage may help reduce reported muscle soreness.
• Perform Gentle Stretching – although research doesn’t find stretching alone reduces muscle pain of soreness, many people find it simply feels good..
• Try Yoga – there is growing belief that performing Yoga may reduce DOMS.
• Listen to Your Body – avoid any vigorous activity or exercise that increases pain.
• Warm Up – there is some research that supports that a warm-up performed immediately prior to eccentric exercise produces small reductions in delayed-onset muscle soreness
• Progress Slowly – the most important prevention method is to gradually increase your exercise time and intensity.
Is It DOMS or an injury?
It is important to understand the difference between muscle strain and DOMS. When you strain a muscle from vigorous exercise, you can worsen the injury if you continue to exercise. In other words, if you have severely strained a calf muscle running, you will have problems walking afterwards. If you have DOMS, your muscles will be stiff and sore, but you’ll be able to walk around, and the symptoms will go away within a few days.