You’ve done it: Woken up one morning, not feeling quite right. Attempted to get out of bed, but then plop back down, groaning. You wonder why you let yourself get into such a mess, why you thought it was a good idea at the time. Why didn’t you drink more water? Why did you go so hard so fast? Who did you let talk you into this? You go about your morning routine, hoping it wears off by the time you get to work, that maybe no one will notice. But you’re limping; picking up that box causes you to wince; you have to rotate your entire body to look to the side as you are unable to turn from your core.
You are suffering the effects of The Morning After, known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness…DOMS.
You most likely experience DOMS after you do an exercise for the first time, the first time after a hiatus, or at an intensity beyond your norm. It could be yoga, it could be just stretching, it could have been running or weight lifting or swimming. In any case, you are now sore, stiff, and wondering what to do about it.
It used to be believed that DOMS was caused by a build-up of lactic acid. We now know that this is not the case.
When you exercise, you create micro-tears in your muscle fibers. It is through this tearing-and-healing process that your muscles become stronger and thicker (which is why rest is VITAL to your workouts…but that’s another post). These micro-tears, well, they hurt! Pain is your body’s way of making you aware of an injury; it has nothing to do with weakness. Essentially, DOMS is an injury. However, it is not necessarily one that requires you to be sidelined.
How you treat your DOMS depends on its severity. Time is the only true healer. In the meantime, ideally, you should not do the exercise that caused it until your muscles have healed, e.g., if your calves are sore from a rope-skipping session, you’ll want to avoid another rope-skipping workout. Light stretching can help relieve tightness and may help deliver “fresh” oxygenated blood to the damaged area. Epsom salt baths can alleviate some of the soreness. Massage, if not deep-tissue, can also bring some relief (tennis balls, foam rollers, and any various forms of The Stick and its generic cousins also work). Heat and/or ice may help; neither have been proven scientifically, but athletes claim it helps.
The pain should subside in 3-7 days. If it’s lasted over a week, please see a sports injury specialist/therapist.
Can you avoid DOMS? If you’re attempting a new activity, probably not completely. What you can do is warm up (dynamic, please! no static stretching, that only leads to injury); push yourself, but not pedal-to-the-metal; cool-down; and stretch.
Enjoy the fruits of your workout without the embarrassing morning-after limp.