DOMS is the acronym for Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness. You’ve had it. It’s that stiff, tight, aching, tender, soreness—sometimes flat out pain—you feel a day or two after a workout.
Sometimes you knew it was coming. You did a really heavy workout, or a brand new workout, or worked out a body part that you hadn’t in a really long while, and you just knew you’d be feeling it. Other times, you had no idea that the workout you did would cause so much pain, in places you didn’t even realized you had used!
There is no outright way to prevent DOMS, because we are not quite sure what causes it. The old theory was that it was a build-up of lactic acid in the muscles, but now we know that lactic acid is reabsorbed into your body within about a minute of being released.
Theory 1: DOMS is due to microtrauma, or microtears, in the muscle fiber. The pain is essentially your body’s way of letting you know of these ‘injuries.’
Theory 2: DOMS is some sort of inflammatory response.
Personally, my theory is that it’s a combination of the two, perhaps inflammation due to microtrauma. I say this because sometimes DOMS feels just tight, and sometimes it is a wincing pain.
So you can’t quite prevent it. You only get better if you push yourself, and pushing yourself can cause some soreness (of course, a full muscle tear or even a strain is a clear sign you pushed too hard).
The main question is, once you are experiencing DOMS, what do you do?
I will preach it loud and repeatedly:::Stretch STRETCH stretch stretch STRETCH!!! immediately after any activity you do. Even once DOMS has set in, stretch the muscle. This helps re-align your muscle fibers, gets blood flowing into the area and can release stiffness.
Now, ice is best for inflammation, but heat is best for stiffness. So try both. Ice your sore muscles to reduce any inflammation that might occur. Then take a bath with epsom salts. And then stretch again.
Light massage might help, too! It gets that blood flowing and if nothing else, can just help you relax and feel better.
Speaking of blood flowing, should you rest or try again? It depends on the severity of the pain, and of course what body part you are stiff in. Start with a light warm-up—walk, jog, body-weight reps. I believe any pain is your body’s warning sign, and DOMS is no different. I would avoid heavy workouts, or endurance workouts, for the sore body part. But don’t just sit around and wait for it to feel better. Get moving. Focus on the other half of your body (which, you should be doing anyways since you shouldn’t be working out the same body parts 2 days in a row).
What about sports-specific DOMS? If you’re a runner and you have DOMS in your quads, a soccer player with DOMS in your calves or a golfer with DOMS in your back…it can have a slight effect on your game. However, keep the above tips in mind. You can still get in your workout, just lighten up a bit. Use it as an excuse to cross-train! Cross-training’s always good for your body and can help you improve your game no matter what your sport.
DOMS can be more mentally defeating than physically. DO NOT use it as a reason to ditch your workout! Modify your plan. Get creative. And keep moving!