Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

In my opinion, the worst part about working out is the muscle soreness and stiffness associated with it for a few days afterwards. The term that is used to describe these common aches and pains is called delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS for short. The symptoms of DOMS can be pain, muscle tenderness, reduced strength, swelling, and stiffness. Anybody that is involved in strength training or other types of strenuous exercise knows these symptoms all too well. Sometimes it feels like my body was hit by a train. Despite my exaggeration, it is believed that DOMS is caused as a result of muscle fiber damage during the eccentric phase of exercise. The eccentric phase is when the muscle is lengthening while force is being applied, or when resistance overcomes force. Not surprising, greater damage usually occurs at longer muscle lengths. Classic examples of eccentric movement is the lowering phase during a bench press or a squat.

Inflammation is believed to be the culprit for the symptoms related DOMS. When muscle damage occurs prostaglandin and the immune system responds at the site of injury. Prostglandin is produced by arachidonic acid, an omega 6 fatty acid which is found in muscles. Prostaglandin causes the sensation of pain and discomfort. The immune cells, such as neutrophils, further damage the injured muscle by releasing toxins and free radicals, thus creating more short term pain and swelling. Pain and discomfort is just part of the healing process and is a necessary step for repairing damaged muscles.

Here is a brief list of the symptoms and how long you can expect to go through some discomfort

  • Strength loss: Usually Peaks within the first 2 days after exercise and can take up to 5 days to fully recover

  • Pain and tenderness: Peaks around 2 – 3 days after exercise and goes away in about a week

  • Stiffness and swelling: Peaks around 3 – 4 days after exercise and ends around the 10th day.

What can reduce the inflammation and discomfort during muscle healing?

There are many treatments out there but have either inconsistent results or further studies need to be done to find an effective form of them. These treatments are anti – inflammatory medications, icing, stretching, massage, acupuncture, herbal remedies, HBOT, and antioxidants. If you are looking into antioxidants, curcumin has been getting most of the attention as of late and has been shown to reduce DOMS after exercise. More studies need to be done to find its true effectiveness, but curcumin looks very promising as a viable treatment for DOMS. Another treatment showing some relief in athletes is anti inflammatory medications. However, I suggest that you don't go down the medication route unless the pain is unbearable. Icing and antioxidant therapy seem to be very promising as well. However, this is not to say that the other treatments cannot help you out greatly, but are not across the board effective for everyone. We all respond differently to various forms of therapy and what works for one will not work for another. Plus it is important to state that just because these therapies may not be greatly effective in reducing DOMS does not mean that they are not excellent treatments for other disorders associated with the body.

How does working out effect the level of DOMS I am Feeling?

Intensity There is a big difference in the time needed for recovery if you are pushing yourself beyond human limits as compared to unenthusiastically exercising while updating your Facebook in between sets. The more strenuous the exercise and the greater the duration of a workout the longer the body is going to take to repair itself which can account for an increase in soreness.

The Type of Exercise Squats will take a toll on the muscles much more than jumping jacks will. Especially if it is specific to bodybuilding or powerlifting. The reason being is that the heavier the resistance and the higher the volume the more muscle fibers are going to have to be recruited to perform the exercise. When more muscle fibers rip the more of them have to be repaired. Thus any lift that requires more than one muscle to do the movement (also called a compound movement) will usually result in the recruitment of more fibers, such as squats.

New Forms Of Exercise If you are beginning a new exercise program, incorporating new techniques, or applying different exercises then it is no surprise that you should feel an increase in DOMS symptoms. Muscle soreness usually lessens when the body has adapted to the same exercises and programs done day in and day out, so if your shocking the neuromuscular system with new and different stimuli it will place new damage and stress on the muscle. This is necessary for developing size, strength and speed.

What can I do to recover naturally and not exacerbate the symptoms of DOMS?

Diet This is a big factor that goes past most peoples heads. Exercise gives the body the opportunity to get bigger, stronger, and faster, but it is diet that makes good on the opportunity by nourishing and repairing it. Make sure you eat plenty of healthy nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetable, whole grains lean meats, healthy oils, and low fat dairy. Adjust macro nutrients to include a greater amount of protein that helps repair muscles, especially if you are an aging athlete. Try to get in a wide variety of micro nutrients consisting of vitamins and minerals, either eating whole and unrefined foods and/or taking in high quality vitamin and mineral supplements. And yes, that also includes plenty of water. Dehydration can cause muscle pain, let alone recovering from soreness after exercise. If you do not have the adequate nutrition needed for your workouts then it will take longer for the body to repair itself.

Sleep Like diet, sleep is the time when the anabolic, or healing and growth process takes place. If you are working out hard and only get 4 hours of sleep a night then don't expect to feel good when you get up in the mornings to come. Lack of sleep can increase the perception of pain and make DOMS feel worse. Not only is this rule true for recovering from soreness but for performance and cognition as well. I think we can all vouch for the feeling of not getting a good night sleep. Turn the television off and go to bed. Get in at least 6 hours of sleep.

Mental State Life outside the gym is very stressful. Bills have to be paid, the kids have to be fed, and the dog has to be walked. And to top it all off you have to go to work for most of the day. Stress can lead to all types psychosomatic illnesses, fatigue and muscle aches being a couple of them. To break stress calm down and relax. For a little time a day shut out the outside world and focus only on you.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” ~Hippocrates

Nutrition is 80% of living a healthy lifestyle. Changing your nutrition can be extremely hard so we wrote a free Nutrition report for you, to take away all the guess work and make it easy for you.


Connolly, D.A.J., Sayers, S.P., McHugh, M.P. (2003). Treatment and prevention of delayed onset muscle soreness. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 17(1). 197 – 208.

Nicol, L.M., Rowlands, D.S., Fazakerly, R., Kellet, J. (2015). Curcumin supplementation likely attenuates delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). European Journal of Applied Physiology, 115(8). 1769 – 77.

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