Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

Posted by Filed Under: Running Injuries

running2.jpgYou’ve just finished an heroic workout. You felt no problems during and immediately afterward. Now, it’s two days later and your legs are so sore that you can’t walk, let alone go down stairs without severe pain. Welcome to delayed onset muscle soreness.

What is it? Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is skeletal muscle pain that starts 8 to 24 hours after activity and peaks from 24 to 72 hours after activity. It is not considered to be a true muscle tear or strain.

What are the causes/predisposing factors of DOMS? DOMS is thought to be caused by microscopic damage to the muscle tissue itself. This microtrauma causes disruption to the structure of the muscle fibers leading to inflammation and pain.

Lactic acid accumulation is not believed to play a role in DOMS because blood and muscle lactate levels return to normal 30 to 40 minutes after exercise.

Typical causes of DOMS are eccentric muscle loading (such as downhill running), performing new exercises, or higher-than-normal intensity training.

What are the symptoms? Symptoms include pain and tenderness to the touch in the affected muscles. The pain usually begins 8 to 24 hours after exercise and peaks at 24 to 72 hours post exercise.

There is usually a loss of strength and mobility in the muscle, and it may be swollen. The amount of discomfort seems to be related to the intensity and duration of the activity.

What can be done to prevent or treat this condition? Prevention is done by doing the activity that causes the DOMS in the first place. The thought is that the body will adapt to these stresses and DOMS will no longer occur. Training should focus on building up to the desired intensity and/or duration over time.

Treatment is controversial. Many studies have been done on various treatment modalities ranging from physical therapy to vitamin supplementation and none have been conclusive. The best approach seems to be resuming physical activity. This reduces pain and inflammation leading to a faster recovery.

The good news is that DOMS is self-limiting and most of the pain is gone within 5 to 7 days. Full recovery usually occurs within 2 weeks. Fortunately, DOMS has not been shown to create any long term problems or impairment in performance.

About Lee Miller D.C.

9536 - 87 Street Edmonton, Alberta T6C 3J1 Phone: (780) 426-6777 Fax: (780) 469-6930

  1. beginrunning on October 3rd at 10:00 am

    Maybe its just me but my hamstrings always seem to be hit the worse when it comes to DOM

  2. passing through on October 15th at 9:28 am

    The only time I really get DOMS these days is after a hard marathon or perhaps a very fast downhill half marathon. Taking one or more ice bath helps tremendously with the recovery as it reduces the swelling and increased the circulation. Walking or spinning on a bicycle are good ways to increase circulation without the pounding of running.

  3. Weight lifting tips on November 30th at 3:42 pm

    I dont ever get sore from running but lately i have been getting the worst pains in my biceps.

    Weight lifting tipss last blog post..Protect your liver when taking supplements

  4. Matt @ Answer on December 25th at 6:47 am

    Lee, while you’re right that the clinical research around most treatments for DOMS are inconclusive (I’m thinking antioxidant supplementation, supplementation with things like L-Glutamine, etc) there are some encouraging studies that show cryotherapy and compression therapy do seem to alleviate some of the symptoms of DOMS — as well as reduce the severity.

    Ice baths — which I know are familiar to a lot of runners — for 15 minutes immediately following eccentric exercise and then repeated every 12 hours seem to help reduce the stiffness and symptoms of DOMS.

    Compression sleeves (like the ones made for your calves) also seem to be effective for reducing the severity of DOMS post exercise. So if people are struggling with DOMS in the calves, you might consider they them.

    If anyone is interested in really getting down into the weeds and clinical research here, you can always check out my “opus” to DOMS over at Answer Fitness:

    Great topic!


    Matt @ Answer Fitness.coms last blog post..How Many Calories Should I Eat To Lose Weight? | Ask The Fitness Nerd

  5. hardgainer on November 8th at 12:01 am

    I really do appreciate the best method looks to be resuming physical activity because it minimize soreness and swelling leading to a quicker healing.