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Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

Updated: Jan 22

If you have ever pushed it a little too hard in the gym, on a run or in an exercise class, you may be all too familiar with the dreaded DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). This particular type of muscle soreness sets in 12-48 hours following exercise and can range from mild discomfort, to the sort of pain that leaves you wailing as you attempt simple tasks such as walking downstairs, sitting down, standing up or brushing your hair!

The good news is symptoms of muscle soreness should start to ease within 3 days post-exercise and you should return to normal within a week, but what causes it, how can it be avoided and how do you best recover quickly from it?

What causes DOMS & how can it be avoided?

As long as the discomfort felt is muscle soreness and not something more serious like an injury, the usual cause is doing exercise which is much harder than you would normally do. When we train, we cause microscopic tears to the muscles, known as micro trauma. This is a perfectly normal process which causes our muscles to get stronger and bigger as they repair, but if we do too much too soon or push too hard, the damage to the muscles will be much greater and can cause inflammation within the tissues. The combination of excessively damaged muscle fibres and soft tissue swelling causes pain and restricted movement, resulting in DOMS.

The easiest way to prevent DOMS therefore is to progress our training gradually and not be tempted to work beyond what our bodies are capable of doing. Always perform a warm-up prior to any high-intensity exercise and when starting a new activity, do little and often to allow your muscles to build capacity to new movements or stresses.

Whether you are a regular exerciser or a beginner, progress gradually and allow your body time to recover in between sessions. We get fitter & stronger on our recovery days, not the days we train!

As a general rule, do not increase training intensity or duration by more than 10% per week.

There are however always times when we will push hard, for example when racing or taking part in a competition or event and it is after these instances that we can take action to recover quickly.

Treating DOMS

  • Hydrate. Take on plenty of water during & after exercise

  • Ensure your protein intake is sufficient. In the UK, adults are advised to eat 0.75g of protein for each kilogram they weigh. If you are regularly training, this can be increased to up to 2g per kilogram of body weight

  • Move. Very light exercise and stretching may help improve the blood flow to the tissues, disperse any swelling and improve the range of movement

  • Evidence supports the use of sports massage to reduce painful symptoms, increase blood flow to damaged tissues, repair muscle damage, increase range of movement & speed recovery

  • A warm bath or shower may help to relax the muscles

  • Sleep well……Zzzzzzzzzzzzz

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