Have you ever adopted a new workout regimen, then ended up kicking your ass so hard that you became discouraged from the pain you experienced after your workouts? If so, you were probably taken by surprise when delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) set in. What often occurs is that people adopting new exercise regimens may become quickly discouraged, usually because they don’t understand why they are so sore, and will back off from exercising without ever getting a chance to maintain consistency. However, DOMS may be a beneficial signal that your workouts are challenging enough to make a difference.
DOMS typically develops between 24 to 72 hours after physical activity, and is considered a relatively normal and common result of activity that challenges muscle tissue. One popular but flawed theory is that the microscopic tears which occur in the muscle fibers after exercise, coupled with the release of lactic acid and protons, are responsible for the muscle soreness which characterizes DOMS. Mizumura and Taguchi determined in an important study that neurotrophic factors are produced by muscle fibers and satellite cells, and are critical for the development of DOMS symptoms. They also determined that damage to muscle fibers was not a necessary component of DOMS, further suggesting that a neurological cascade is what results in the post-exercise soreness.
For the most part, the aches and pains which characterize DOMS are assumed to be a sign that your muscles are adapting to the activity which caused them to develop in the first place. Rather than shying away from physical activity in the long term, the general recommendation is to take it easy for a few days, while still exercising, until the pain subsides. However, those of us who are gym rats and fitness freaks will tend to adopt the “Suck it up, buttercup!” mentality, powering through workouts as best we can while our bodies scream out in general agony.
So what can you do if you have DOMS and you want to lessen the severity and duration of the soreness? The truth is, not much. However, here are some suggestions which you might want to try. Keep in mind that none of these suggestions is proven to ameliorate DOMS, but none will worsen the symptoms either.
• consumption of plenty of water both during and after exercise
• consumption of a protein-rich meal after exercise
• cherry juice
• vitamin D supplementation
• compression garments
• Epsom salts
• application of heat
One thing to bear in mind is that if you are consistently working out at the same intensity, your muscles will become familiar with that intensity, essentially adapting to it. This phenomenon is called the repeated bout effect (RBE), and basically means that you will most likely notice a drop-off in DOMS episodes. If you suddenly increase the intensity or duration of your workouts, the chance of developing DOMS will return.
Obviously if you believe you have a specific injury, and not DOMS, then get it evaluated and rest up.
Mizumura K, Taguchi T. Delayed onset muscle soreness: Involvement of neurotrophic factors. J Physiol Sci. 2016 Jan;66(1):43-52.