Have you ever felt sore after starting a new activity or pushing yourself harder than usual during a workout?
Muscle pain that shows up a day or two after exercising can affect anyone, regardless of your fitness level.
But don’t be put off. This type of muscle stiffness or achiness is normal, doesn’t last long, and is actually a sign of your improving fitness.
According to studies carried out by Dr Jonathan Folland, an expert in neuromuscular physiology from Loughborough University, there are many factors that cause delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) and a number of ways to ease the pain allowing you to continue with your training.
DOMS can occur when
- you start a new exercise programme, change your exercise routine, or increase the duration or intensity of your regular workout.
When muscles are required to work harder than they’re used to, or in a different way, it is believed to cause damage to the muscle fibres, resulting in muscle soreness or stiffness. DOMS is often mistakenly believed to be caused by lactic acid build up, however, lactic acid is not involved in this process.
Treatments such as ice packs, massage, tender-point acupressure, anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, and rest may help ease some of the symptoms.
DOMS doesn’t generally require medical intervention. However, seek medical advice if the pain becomes debilitating, or you experience heavy swelling or if your urine becomes dark.
There is little evidence that warming-up will be effective in preventing DOMS. However, exercising with warmed-up muscles will reduce your chance of injury and improve your performance.
While stretching has many benefits, there is currently no evidence that stretching before or after exercise helps to reduce or prevent DOMS.
You can exercise with DOMS, although it may feel uncomfortable, especially during the warm-up phase. You may find the pain goes away during the session but it will return after exercising once your muscles have cooled down.
If the pain makes it hard to exercise, then it is advisable to refrain from the activity for a few days until the pain eases. Alternatively, you could focus on exercises targeting less affected muscles to allow the most affected muscle groups time to recover.
Will I keep getting DOMS?
DOMS is a type of muscle conditioning, which means your muscles are adapting to the new activity. The next time you perform the same activity, or exercise at the same intensity, there will be less muscle tissue damage, less soreness, and a faster recovery.
Just one bout of DOMS actually develops a partial protective effect that reduces the chances of developing soreness in that same activity for the following weeks or months.