What Is DOMS?
When we work our muscles harder than usual, the achiness and stiffness we often end up with is termed delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It can affect anyone and just as the name suggests, it sets in a little while after taking part in the activity that’s caused it - usually a day or two.
Our muscles are one of the most important soft tissues in our bodies - and they’re the only type of soft tissue with the ability to contract. It’s this ability that enables us to apply force and achieve movement.
For people like bodybuilders and anyone who uses weights as part of their fitness routine, DOMS can be a familiar and even welcome sensation, because it’s a sign that the muscles have had a good workout and are on the road to recovering and getting stronger.
What Causes DOMS?
All kinds of sports and exercises can lead to DOMS. It’s frequently experienced after you’ve put your muscles through their paces, working them harder than you usually do or using them in a different way. You might have upped the weight you’re lifting in the gym, switched up your exercise routine or even tried a completely new sport.
Put simply, DOMs can result from any activity that puts more strain on your muscles than they’re normally accustomed to receiving.
So, what’s actually happening to your muscles to cause a case of DOMS? Making your muscles work harder or in a different way leads to tiny tears in their fibres, and it’s these tears which give you that feeling of soreness and stiffness.
The good news is that as the tears heal and your muscles recover, they strengthen and grow too - so the next time you perform the same activity at the same intensity, it’s likely that your DOMS won’t be quite so bad.
Symptoms of DOMS
If you’re experiencing DOMS, you’ll know about it; your muscles will be sore and stiff, and the pain is exacerbated by moving them. This pain can vary from fairly mild to quite severe, to the point that you may find it difficult to use the affected muscles.
It’s worth noting that DOMS only occurs after exercise, so you should never associate this condition with any sort of sharp or sudden pain you might experience during an activity, which could be a sports injury. And if you’re experiencing unbearable pain or severe swelling, get medical help.
Treatment for DOMS
The nature of DOMS means your muscles will heal on their own and the pain will subside, usually over a period of three to five days.
There’s not much you can do to help your muscles recover any faster than they would naturally, but you can certainly alleviate the symptoms in the meantime - and it’s also a good idea to ease off on strenuous exercise to help the healing process. In addition to rest, the NHS recommends ice packs, painkillers, ice and massage.
Our cooling bandages are a brilliant and more convenient alternative to ice, requiring no refrigeration and helping to reduce pain while promoting blood flow to sore muscles.
Some injuries can be self-treated whilst others require prompt medical attention. You should seek advice from a health professional if: the injury causes severe pain, swelling, or numbness; you can't tolerate weight on the area; the pain or dull ache of an old injury is accompanied by increased swelling or joint abnormality or instability.