DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is a common condition marked by the pain that one experiences a day or two after a workout. Although there’s a bit of uncertainty as to its origins, it’s believed that the pain is a result of microscopic damage to the muscle tissue during new or particularly challenging workouts. The body creates a response around this injury and begins the healing process which makes our muscles feel sore, swollen, and tender. This type of discomfort is different from that which may be experienced during an exercise.
Although there is no research to date that is scientifically proven to speed up the healing process, the standard approach in pain reduction involves the use of cold therapy through the topical application of an ice bag as opposed to heat treatment (ACE, 2013). Although heat certainly feels more relaxing, cold applications may actually help decrease inflammation along with other interventions such as stretching, massage, and the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs (ACSM, 2011). It should be noted however that although pain may be temporarily reduced by these interventions, it doesn’t mean that the muscle is recovered from damage. The healing process can take several days but the good news is that the muscle will be better adapted to that exercise- which decreases the likelihood of experiencing DOMS the next time you engage in that same workout.
The debilitating pain experienced from DOMS can throw a proverbial wrench into your workout routine. Adding in too much unaccustomed movement or intensity all at once will likely result in severe muscle soreness. You can reduce the severity of delayed muscle soreness by slowly progressing your workout program. Another factor that plays into the equation to a lesser extent includes ensuring adequate warm up before a workout to help prepare the muscle for demand. Although this practice won’t necessarily prevent DOMS per se, together with properly performed stretches done after your workout will certainly help decrease your overall risk of injury and strain.
American College of Sports Medicine (2011), Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, Retrieved 11/29/2013 from http://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/delayed-onset-muscle-soreness-(doms).pdf.