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DOMS - Delayed onset of muscle soreness

By Gemma | April 05, 2020 | Fitness

You have probably heard of the word DOMS spoken around the gym and to some of you, you may know about the term quite well. But it seems to me that whilst many people may have heard of the term they don’t actually know why it happens and what it truly means.

DOMS are the soreness, pain or stiffness we feel 24-72 hours after a workout. They are usually the ache we feel 2-3 days after a tough workout and also the soreness we question when we feel worse 2 days later!  They are caused when we work muscles to a new level, introduce new movements or stress a muscle in its lengthening phase (eccentric movement) (1). Frequency of DOMS can also depend on the intensity and duration of a workout.

The mechanical underlying factor of DOMS is still being debated, however, it is known that micro-trauma of the muscle is one of the causes. When we push muscles to a new extreme, they experience small tears, which are microscopic. In order for our muscles to get stronger and more powerful we need this process to happen (2), however, these microscopic tears are the fundamental cause of DOMS.  It is also believed that an inflammatory response happens within muscle tissue, which further causes discomfort.

The main factor to be aware of when experiencing DOMS is preventing injury, as when our body feels pain it is really clever and recruits different muscles to take over a movement than the ones that are all ready sore! This is extremely difficult when one of the best ways to reduce DOMS is to continue training (1).  So the main thing to be aware of in this situation is technique when carrying out movements, to avoid placing further stress on the wrong muscles. For more information on DOMS, look at the references below.

  1. Cheung K, Hume P, Maxwell  M. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Sports Medicine, 2003:33;145-164.
  2. Shoenfeld B, Contreras B. Is Postexercise Muscle Soreness a Valid Indicator of Muscular Adaptations? 2013:35;16-21.