Dealing with Muscle Soreness

We are all familiar with achy muscles associated with hitting the gym. Limping around for three days after trying to get back into good habits of exercise can be disheartening. This mysterious delay of muscle soreness is termed DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness. It usually sets in 12-24 hours after a workout. Learning about what causes DOMS can help prevent it when possible and teach you how to treat it.

The physiological cause of DOMS is quite complicated. However, the myth that it has to do with lactic acid build-up in the muscle is false. This has to do with acute muscle soreness immediately after your workout, but usually disappears within minutes. Simply put, DOMS occurs when excess force is placed on muscle that results in tissue damage and inflammation.

Methods proven to help prevent DOMS:

  1. Minimize eccentric component of movements in exercise- eccentric movement is the lengthening of the muscle like the lowering phase of a bicep curl
  2. Work your way up to difficult workouts- it is extremely important that you start with low weights if you are just beginning a strength program and gradually work your way up to avoid injury as well as intense soreness
  3. Have a proper warm up to your workouts- this should include stretching and a few minutes of light cardio like jogging

Treating DOMS:

  1. Keep exercising! Lots of evidence supports that continuing to exercise speeds up recovery
  2. Massaging the muscles after exercise can decrease inflammation and block pain sensation
  3. Heating pad application to increase blood flow to the affected area to speed up the removal of pain substrates 
  4. Anti-inflammatory medicine like aspirin can temporarily relieve pain


Read the American College of Sports Medicine's overview of DOMS here