Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

DOMS: Hacks for Aching Sore Muscles

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Last Updated on 26 Oct, 2018

Are you facing muscle pain and soreness after all that Diwali cleaning?

Climbing stairs becoming a torture to you? This could even happen after a good session of squats.

Can’t lift a spoon in the kitchen, after lifting those heavy buckets and moving cupboards? That was as good as lifting dumbbells at the gym.

And what’s worse, does the pain seem to hang around for 2, even 3 days??

If you are facing any of the above situations, there isn’t much cause to be worried, because this muscular pain and soreness is completely normal, and it even has a name: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS.

Most people face this type of muscle soreness and acute pain after a strenuous workout in the gym or after taking up an out-of-turn new physical activity.

What is DOMS?

DOMS is a muscle pain or discomfort that occurs as a result of muscle damage after a strenuous exercise. It usually appears one or two days after the damage is done and can last for several days. Most believe soreness develops as a result of microscopic damage to muscle fibers involved the exercise.

Definition of DOMS

How severe can muscle soreness (DOMS) be?

The severity depends upon how much the muscle is damaged causing swelling, leading to the pain, stiffness and weakness. Heel pain is a common foot condition related to this.

[Plantar Fasciitis is another very common cause of heel pain.  Read more about Plantar Fasciitis here]

Interesting Fact about DOMS

DOMS Myth 1:  DOMS occurs due to lactic acid accumulation

FACT:  This is a common misconception about DOMS, lactic acid is not a component of this process. DOMS appears to be a side effect of the repair process that develops in response to microscopic muscle damage.


DOMS Myth 2: DOMS is same as the soreness one feels during a strenuous activity.

FACT: The delayed onset muscle soreness is different from the soreness or pain felt during the action or activity. DOMS is felt most intensely around 24 – 72 hours after exercise, and can produce the greatest pain.


DOMS Myth 3: DOMS is very painful and therefore troublesome

FACT: To your surprise, some people love and enjoy DOMS (very small percentage of people) because to them the pain associated with DOMS represents an effective workout.


DOMS Myth 3: DOMS is same as general body pain

FACT: Do not mix up DOMS with an all prevailing general body pain that lingers on even if you haven’t undertaken any strenuous activity or exercise in the last 2-3 days. Stabbing unbearable pain and dullness in body in absence of physical strain could be symptomatic of Neuralgia. Read more about Neuralgia here.

How to lessen Muscle soreness (DOMS)?

Lessen DOMS soreness

Here are a few tips to reduce DOMS:

  • Rest and Recover: Resting for some time can help relieve the muscle pain
  • Massage in the affected area
  • NSAIDs may be used for pain relief
  • Try an Icing or Contrast Water Bath in the area where you have muscle pain [Read how to use ICE here]
  • Perform Gentle Stretching
  • Keep yourself hydrated
  • Warm Up completely before your next exercise session

Often, symptoms diminish during activity, but they will return after recovery. Performing exercise while experiencing severe symptoms may make matters worse. On the other hand, light activity should not impair your recovery. However, there is also not much evidence that this will hasten your recovery. If you find that your symptoms make it difficult or too painful to perform the activity, then it is advisable to refrain from the activity for a few days and return to the activity as symptoms subside.

[ Read more about Stretching and making the most of it by clicking here]

How can I prevent muscle soreness after exercise?

One can reduce muscles after exercise to a large extent with the help of the following tips:

  • Best strategy is to progress slowly in a new program allowing the muscle and giving time to adapt to new stress
  • It is also important to allow the muscle to recover from work by giving sufficient rest periods
  • Warm Up thoroughly before activity
  • Cool Down with gentle stretching after exercise

Related reading:

5 minute Stretch exercises: Back, Neck pain

Six Active Stretches

Why does DOMS occur?

Sore muscles after Exercises

The delayed onset muscle soreness can be attributed to one or more of the following:

  • If a person is training for the first time, or starting a new exercise program which the body is not used to.
  • If a person is training differently than the normal routine, for example, when including new exercises in the workout.
  • If a person is training with a change in the exercise intensity, which includes the amount of weight used, duration, and time – the change here is a positive change, i.e., more than the usual intensity.

Everyone must have experienced DOMS at some point, though the people who are used to training, or have been training for longer (including bodybuilders), are probably less susceptible to it, but still experience DOMS sometimes when there is a change as mentioned above.

Does DOMS only cause soreness?

There are numerous characteristics of DOMS beyond local muscle pain. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Swelling of the affected limbs
  • Stiffness of the joint accompanied by temporary reduction in a joint’s range of motion
  • Tenderness to the touch
  • Temporary reduction in strength of the affected muscles (lasting days)
  • In rare and severe cases, muscle breakdown to the extent that the kidneys may be placed at risk
  • Elevated creatine kinase (CK) enzyme in the blood, signaling muscle tissue damage

What is the best treatment for DOMS?

DOMS symptoms do not typically necessitate the need for medical intervention. If the pain level becomes debilitating, if limbs experience heavy swelling or if urine becomes dark, then medical consultation is advisable.

Presently, the best treatment for DOMS appears to be muscular activity, although the sensation again returns following the exercise. Training for the specific contractile activity that causes DOMS reduces the soreness response, says a study in Medical Science Sports Exercises.

What exercises cause muscle soreness and DOMS in particular?

Activities which cause DOMS all cause muscles to lengthen while force is applied. This is eccentric muscle action. Examples of eccentric muscle actions include :

  • the lowering phase of a bicep curl exercise
  • the lengthening of the thigh muscles while the limb brakes against your body’s momentum as it walks or jogs down a hill.

Jogging or running on a flat surface can also elicit DOMS symptoms for those who are unaccustomed to this type of activity.

The severity of soreness depends on the types of forces placed on the muscle. Running down a hill will place greater force on the muscle than walking down the same hill. The soreness that develops will likely be greater after running down a hill.

A high number of repetitions will cause more damage and soreness than a low number of repetitions. As a result, work your way gradually into a new exercise program.

All people are susceptible to DOMS, even those who have been exercising for years. However, the severity of soreness normally becomes less as your body becomes adapted to work it regularly performs. Just one bout of soreness producing exercise actually develops a partial protective effect that reduces the chance of developing soreness in that same activity for weeks or months into the future.

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This article is contributed by Dr. Swapnaja Joshi (PT). Dr Swapnaja is a Masters in Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy. She is very popular among her patients for her positive demeanor and effective treatment. She can be found at one of the ReLiva clinics.

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