DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) – Written by Simon Case
With the reopening of gyms and resumption of outdoor activities and sports, combined with optimistic new year’s resolutions, many more people are exercising or increasing their activities once again.
Some are beginning their active lifestyles for the first time and some are returning to activity after prolonged time off. Regardless of elite versus amateur status in the world of sports and exercise, the majority can attest to experiencing the painful wrath of muscle soreness or pain following exercise refereed to as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)
As the name suggests the impact of DOMS pain is “delayed”, so will typically present following sport, exercise or strenuous activity. DOMS can vary greatly between individuals, from a small ache or local tenderness to very acute very intense pain and usually lasts for around 1-3 days following exercise. For individuals or athletes who train regularly they will often know the behaviour of the DOMS they experience, including when it begins and when it will end. For the beginner or amateur athlete DOMS pain can be quite intense and alarming, coupled with the reduced ability to function normally, the affects of DOMS can often be mistaken for causing injury to ones self and may deter unaccustomed individuals from further activity or sports.
There are various hypothesis for why DOMS presents, including muscle spasm / cramps, lactic acid build up, connective tissue damage, muscle damage, inflammation, and enzyme efflux theories. (Cheung et al., 2012) However no conclusive single theory has been proven.
What are the treatments for DOMS?
Treatments for DOMS have been proposed, however no statistically significant modality has been shown to be better than another, suggestions are ICE, pain medication and massage, (NHS., 2017) however most people rest for 1-3 days and allow the pain to settle. Athletes who train daily can continue training but should aim to target other parts of the body less affected by the DOMS, this will help maintain activity but allow the affected areas adequate time to recover.
DOMS pain should be investigated if it surpasses what you normally experience as an athlete, or if you are an amateur and the pain exceeds 1-3 days and does not reduce over time or becomes debilitating. Injury can occur with premature return to sport or exercise as the body can use compensatory mechanisms to perform activity which may cause unaccustomed stress on the muscles, tendons or other structures.
Athletes will experience DOMS predominantly at the beginning of a season or after prolonged time off. Even if you are a seasoned athlete and your body is well conditioned to the demands of your sport or exercise, DOMS pain can present through introduction of new or different types of training or activity, again this is normal.
The take home message is “DOMS are normal”, typically it lasts for 1-3 days and symptoms will gradually taper off. Resting the affected area whilst the symptoms of DOMS are present typically resolves the aches and pains. If pain continues beyond 1-3 days or becomes worse or function is not regained you should seek assessment from a physiotherapist or doctor.
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