DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

DOMS - bounding exercise

DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness is a particular type of muscle soreness that sets in hours after exercise. It can range from mild discomfort to crippling pain. Here we explain the symptoms, causes, and recovery from DOMS.

Symptoms of DOMS

  • DOMS usually occurs 12-48 hours after exercise.
  • Muscle aching and tightness are the most common symptoms, often resulting in a decreased range of motion.
  • Any discomfort should start to ease within 3 days post-exercise and you should return to normal within a week.
  • If your symptoms persist longer than a week then seek professional medical advice from your doctor or a physio.

What causes delayed onset muscle soreness?

The usual cause is doing exercise which is much harder than you would normally do. This is especially true for plyometric and jumping type exercises. You may feel OK at the time, but gradually over the next 24 to 48 hours, muscle soreness sets in.

Plyometric exercises are explosive hopping and jumping activities. They make up an important part of sports training, not only for sprinters and jumpers but in football and racket sports. They are great for improving sports speed and your ability to change direction quickly. However, if you do not build up gradually, you run the risk of severe delayed onset muscle soreness.

This is because your muscles are working eccentrically. An eccentric muscle contraction is one where the muscle is contracting, but at the same time, it is lengthening. Therefore, they place much greater demands on your muscles. You are likely to increase the eccentric load on your muscles when doing the following types of exercise:

  • Plyometric training
  • Running downhill
  • Squatting with heavy weights (on the downwards phase).

Why is it painful?

One theory is that microscopic muscle tears occur in your muscles when training. This is normal, as overload is important to enable your muscles to grow back stronger.

You are not training when you are training, you are training when you allow your body to recover and grow back stronger.

Michael Walden

However, if you progress your training too quickly, you cause too much damage to your muscles. Therefore resulting in DOMS. This is one of the reasons why training should start very lightly and progress gradually.


Treating DOMS

  • Time – allow the muscles to heal without stressing them again – wait at least a week and until all symptoms have cleared before performing the same exercise again.
  • Massage may help reduce the effects.
  • Very light, preferably weight-bearing aerobic exercise and stretching may also be beneficial to improve the blood flow, warm the muscles and improve range of motion.
  • Hydrotherapy and spa baths may help reduce the effects of DOMS.
  • Alternating hot and cold baths. Although there is no scientific proof that this is effective it is often used by professional athletes who believe it to be beneficial.

Preventing DOMS

  • The best way of treating DOMS is by preventing it!
  • Always perform a warm-up prior to any high-intensity exercise.
  • Always cool down and stretch the following exercise.
  • When starting a new activity, do little and often to allow your muscles to become accustomed to these new strains.
  • In particular, be very careful when you introduce plyometric exercises such as hopping and bounding. You may not realise at the time just how much stress you are putting the muscle through.
  • Whether you are a regular exerciser or a beginner, build-up gradually and allow your body time to recover in between sessions.
  • As a general rule, do not increase training intensity and duration by more than 10% per week!
This article has been written with reference to the bibliography.

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