Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS) – What is it?

Harmony_Pilates_Physical_Therapy_barreDoes this sound familiar?  You wake up one morning stiff as a board.  Your shoulders are sore and it feels like you can barely lift your arm to grab your cup of coffee.  You rack your brain for what you did the day before that could have made you so sore and nothing comes to mind.  Then you suddenly remember that new class or exercise you tried 3 days earlier. “There is no way I could be sore today from that!…is there?”  Oh yes there is!  Welcome to the wonderful world of DOMS.
Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (otherwise known as DOMS) has probably affected everyone reading this at least once in their lives.  It describes the phenomenon of sore muscles that occur 24-72 hours after exercising.  Understanding DOMS and why it occurs can help your fitness and overall long-term wellbeing.  Here are some facts about DOMS:
1) It is caused by eccentric (lengthening) muscle contractions that occur during your workout.  These contractions can cause small microtears in the individual protein chains in the muscle fiber as well as the surrounding fascia.  These tears can lead to inflammation, and thus pain and stiffness. DOMS is not caused by lactic acid build up as previously believed.
What this means for you: Remember DOMS is a normal phenomenon and doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve injured yourself.  These small microtears are normal and usually heal just fine on their own.  Drink lots of water, stay mobile, and the soreness should resolve after 72 hours.  If the soreness has not resolved and in fact continues to get worse after the 72 hours, call your physician.

2) DOMS occurs almost exclusively in new activities/exercises.  The “repeated-bout effect” allows our muscles to rapidly adapt to reduce damage and soreness in the future from the same exercise.

What this means for you: This delayed muscle soreness does not mean you need to stop an activity!  That same activity will get easier and easier each time you do it.  Give your body a few days to rest and then try it again.  Don’t let DOMS scare you or stop you from exercising.  In the days that you are sore from the exercise, do other forms of exercises.  After 2-3 days go back to that same activity and you may be surprised how much easier it feels already.

The takeaway from this is that delayed muscle soreness is normal and nothing to be scared of!  Let your body rest if it needs to, then get right back to it.  If you are nervous or unsure, call your trainer, physical therapist or physician and then keep on moving!

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2 thoughts on “Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS) – What is it?”

  1. How ironic–I’m dealing with this right now! I did a great legs workout yesterday and now getting out of my chair is quite the uncomfortable task! It’s totally worth it though–soreness means I did something meaningful in my workout!

    • Carrie – I agree that soreness makes me feel like I actually did something 🙂 Luckily it’s the “good” sore more than the “bad” sore! Thanks for visiting!


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