Have you ever heard of DOMS? No, it's not a fancy French champagne; it's muscle pain known as "delayed onset muscle soreness." Even if you've never heard of it before, we bet you've experienced it. It's that pain that follows a new exercise program or a really hard workout. DOMS is that stiff, burning sensation that you feel in your legs and butt after doing too many squats or lunges. It's that ache that makes you cringe as you gingerly lower yourself to sit down.
DOMS is normally felt 12 to 24 hours after exercise. You can experience muscle soreness after starting a new exercise program, changing an activity, or adding more time or distance to your existing exercise routine. The aching pain is the result of microscopic tears in your muscle fibers. The amount of tearing depends upon how hard or how long you did a particular exercise as well as what type of exercise you performed. It hurts, but DOMS is completely normal and part of the body's natural adaptation system. On the upside, it leads to better muscle stamina and strength as the muscle recovers. Muscle pain is usually at its worst within the first two days following the activity, but subsides gradually over the next few days.
We are sorry to say, there isn't a magical potion to make it go away. If you ask five different people for advice on what to do to reduce the pain, you will most likely get five different answers. Here are some tips for dealing with the workout soreness:
- Bite the hair of the dog that bit you. A cold, tight muscle will stay sore. Get up and walk around a little.
- Use the RICE method of treating injuries (rest, ice, compression, elevation).
- Try soft, gentle stretching on a warmed-up muscle. (Don't stretch a cold, inactive muscle. Warm up a little first by walking briskly.) There's no research to back up stretching, but it feels good.
- Gently massage the affected area (or get someone else to!).
- Before performing another exercise session, make sure to completely warm up.
- Take a yoga class. In a study conducted by the Springfield College Department of Exercise Science and Sports Studies, results suggested that yoga may reduce the pain of exercise-induced muscle soreness.
- Try taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory such as aspirin or ibuprofen. This will help to temporarily reduce the soreness.
Prevention Is the Best Medicine
OK, now you know what DOMS is, what causes it, and how to treat it. Now for the million-dollar question: How do you prevent it?
- Warm up completely before exercise, using active motion rather than static stretching.
- Cool down with gentle stretching after your workout.
- Don't go full blast the first time! If you haven't worked out in a long time, don't start back like you've never missed a day.
- Follow the 10 percent rule of exercising. You should increase your time, duration, distance, or intensity by no more than 10 percent per week.
- Start any new weight training routine with lighter weights and lower reps.
- Stick with your program. Keep moving! A merry-go-round routine of starting, stopping, and re-starting fitness programs will increase your risk of muscle ache.
Don't let DOMS stop you dead in your tracks. Sticking with your exercise program will lessen your chances of getting sore. As your body makes adaptations (becomes stronger and increases stamina) you will be less likely to get that scorching DOMS stiffness.
So what are you waiting for? Go workout!