The dreaded DOMS...
Updated: Apr 12
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness ‘D O M S’
Most of us have experienced dreaded muscle soreness the day after we do a hard workout (or maybe even a big night on the dance floor). Known as delayed-onset-muscle-soreness (DOMS), muscle fever or exercise-induced muscle damage, it’s intensity can vary from discomfort to severe pain on movement. But is it normal? Does it mean our muscles are growing? Can we reduce DOMS or prevent it from occurring entirely?
What is DOMS?
Delayed onset muscle soreness can manifest as muscular aches, reduced range of motion, swelling and a reduction in muscle strength. Importantly, these symptoms should be short-term only, generally beginning the day following activity with peak soreness usually around 48 hours, lasting no longer than 72 hours. Usually occurring after an intense or new exercise, DOMS can occur after any physical stress is placed outside of the normal ranges of intensity for your body 1,2.
Why do we get DOMS?
Essentially, when observed under a microscope, the architecture of a muscle with DOMS will look different to the architecture of a normal muscle. Although there is still ongoing research to investigate the cause behind DOMS, it is known that specific exercise, such as eccentric movement, increases the severity of DOMS. Eccentric muscle contractions occur when the length of a muscle increases under tension (e.g. a Nordic hamstring lower, downhill running or the lowering phase of a bicep curl). It has been established that exercise with this eccentric component results in greater mechanical ‘damage’ to the contractile units of a muscle fibre. This mechanical ‘damage’ is proposed to lead to an increased inflammatory response which may exacerbate the degree of symptoms 3. In addition to eccentric exercises, dehydration has also been postulated as a culprit for more severe DOMS 2.
What should you do if you have DOMS?
Although DOMS is often described as muscle damage, this damage can be a normal part of building strength so don’t panic! However, if you’re suffering DOMS regularly, you should evaluate your training schedule and recovery strategies (read our previous article on that here). Additionally, it’s known that you’re at a greater risk of injury if you don’t allow your muscle fibres to repair, so if you’ve hammered your upper body at the gym and are now suffering DOMS, it’s a good idea to focus on another area of the body (hello leg day) to allow your muscles time to repair and adapt 1,4. If your DOMS is ongoing or you’re experiencing pain at rest, then it’s a good idea to get it checked out.
What can I do to stop DOMS?
While general recovery is most important (nutrition, hydration and sleep), there are a few specific strategies you can do to help reduce the severity of DOMS.
1. The best way to prevent DOMS is to gradually increase your exercise regime and to avoid doing too much too soon. You could try a training diary/planner to track how you’re feeling before or after your workouts.
2. The use of compression garments (e.g. compression leggings or sleeves) have been shown in various studies to reduce the severity of DOMS 3. Similarly, pneumatic compression boots have been shown to have a similar effect in reducing DOMS, but gentle walking may deliver similar effects 5.
3. Finally, drinking tart cherry juice (yes, cherry juice), has been shown to reduce strength loss and pain associated with DOMS. Investigated in various studies, cherries have high levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds which may have a protective effect to reduce muscle damage and soreness after exercise. One study investigated a placebo drink vs ingesting 355mL of tart cherry juice for 7 days prior to running 20-30km, with the cherry juice group reporting significantly lower pain levels after the run compared to the placebo group 6. Another study investigated ingesting 350mL twice per day (equivalent of 100-120 cherries) vs a placebo drink, before a bout of eccentric exercise. The cherry juice group reported significantly lower strength losses 7. However, before ingesting a whole lot of cherry deliciousness, please consider that some participants in these studies were unable to continue due to gastrointestinal upset which may have been due to cherry juice!
Hopefully this article has cleared up some common misconceptions surrounding the dreaded delayed onset muscle soreness. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at HealthHP!
Connolly DA, Sayers SP, McHugh MP. Treatment and prevention of delayed onset muscle soreness. Journal of strength and conditioning research. 2003 Feb 1;17(1):197-208.
Cleary, M. A., Sitler, M. R., & Kendrick, Z. V. Dehydration and symptoms of delayed-onset muscle soreness in normothermic men. Journal of athletic training. 2006 Feb 41(1), 36–45.
Hill J, Howatson G, van Someren K, et al Compression garments and recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage: a meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2014;48:1340-1346.
Dupuy O, Douzi W, Theurot D, Bosquet L, Dugué B. An evidence-based approach for choosing post-exercise recovery techniques to reduce markers of muscle damage, soreness, fatigue, and inflammation: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Frontiers in physiology. 2018 Apr 26;9:403.
Marqués-Jiménez D, Calleja-González J, Arratibel I, Delextrat A, Terrados N. Are compression garments effective for the recovery of exercise-induced muscle damage? A systematic review with meta-analysis. Physiology & Behavior. 2016;153:133-148.
Kuehl KS, Perrier ET, Elliot DL, Chesnutt JC. Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2010 Dec;7(1):17.
Connolly DA, McHugh MP, Padilla-Zakour O. Efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage. British journal of sports medicine. 2006 Aug 1;40(8):679-83.