Tell us if this sounds familiar: you hit the gym, work out hard, and leave feeling great. Then, a day or two later, you can’t stroll up and down the stairs without pain.
If you regularly experience discomfort 24 to 48 hours after exercising, you might be suffering from a condition known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), or muscle fever. Common among athletes of all ages, DOMS can cause pain and discomfort and even prevent someone from hitting the gym as often as desired. Find out what causes delayed onset muscle soreness, along with tips for treating this condition and even preventing it.
Exercise-related muscle pain, delayed-onset muscle soreness can occur as a result of excessive or frequent activity. Often caused by eccentric exercise, in which muscles contract while also lengthening, this condition is common in downhill and long-distance runners, as well as those who partake in plyometric exercises.
With DOMS, individuals often feel fine in the hours after leaving the gym. However, 24 to 48 hours later they may suffer a dull aching sensation, coupled with stiffness that makes it difficult to perform everyday activities. Here are some of the main symptoms associated with delayed onset muscle soreness:
- Muscle tenderness
- Temporary loss of muscle strength
- Reduced range of joint motion
Individuals who are experiencing DOMS often move or walk in different ways in an attempt to take the strain off sore muscles. For this reason, working out with DOMS can increase your odds of suffering an injury.
The Causes of DOMS
An exercise-related condition, DOMS results from myofibril tears, or muscle strains. Doctors believe the tears lead to an inflammatory response involving intramuscular fluid, electrolyte shifts, and swelling. The swelling can increase for a few days after a workout, which is why athletes may suffer pain and discomfort up to 48 hours later.
It’s important to note that DOMS is not caused by the lactic acid buildup that occurs in muscles after a vigorous workout. While lactic acid can lead to a short-lasting burning sensation, it does not result in delayed onset soreness.
Treating Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
Delayed onset muscle soreness can have a negative effect on daily life and even affect long-term health and wellness, as sufferers are often hesitant to hit the gym. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to treat this condition and even prevent it from occurring in the first place.
If you’re already suffering from DOMS, it’s probably best to skip the gym for a couple days. It’s particularly crucial to avoid strenuous activities that might be hard to perform correctly while your muscles are sore. For best results, stick to lower-impact exercises. Go for a walk instead of a run or do fewer-than-normal reps with lighter weights. The last thing you want to do is risk injuring your body further.
Additionally, you may be able to ease the pain by switching up your diet. According to an article in Men’s Journal, antioxidants and caffeine have both been shown to reduce inflammation and recovery time in DOMS patients. Consider snacking on a bowl of blueberries or having a cup of coffee after your next strenuous exercise session. Some experts even recommend increasing your antioxidant consumption for up to a week before and after a big workout or race.
Amino acids are also associated with faster DOMS recovery. According to an article in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, taking amino acids on recovery days reduced both DOMS and muscle damage.
Finally, you can alleviate DOMS-related discomfort with resting, taking anti-inflammatories, icing the injured area, and engaging in gentle massage. It’s best to avoid deep tissue massage during the 24 hours following the onset of pain.
Ways to Prevent DOMS
Of course, preventing delayed onset muscle soreness is even better than treating the condition once it’s already occured. If you want to reduce your odds of experiencing DOMS, aim to participate in gentle stretching before the start of a workout. It’s best to avoid aggressive stretching and exercises prior to warming up.
You can also engage in light stretching and even foam rolling after completing your exercise regimen. For best results, spend time on each major muscle group, starting with the calves and moving upward. Aim for five rolls on areas that aren’t sore while spending more time on painful regions. According to an article in the Australian Journal of Physiotherapy, warming up cut muscle soreness 48 hours after a workout.
Additionally, you can reduce your odds of getting delayed onset muscle soreness by eating plenty of protein. According to Women’s Health, muscles need protein to build and repair themselves, and people who are deficient in this area are more likely to experience pain after a workout.
Follow these tips so you can get back to the gym sooner.