We have all been there, overdoing physical activity in the yard ... or perhaps being a weekend warrior, playing sports or just pushing your fitness program harder.
You feel great the rest of the day and pretty good the next day or so. Then day two or three and ouch, you're sore, stiff and feeling like you have been hit by a bus.
What the heck is going on? Why do we get so stiff and sore a fews days after strenuous activity? Well, it's called "DOMS," delayed onset muscle soreness, which is the pain and stiffness felt in muscles days after strenuous exercise.
The actual time frame that DOMS shows up with the most intensity is between 24 to 72 hours after strenuous activity or exercise. The primary cause of this interesting and sometimes very painful onset is micro-trauma to your muscle fibers. In order to build and strengthen our muscles, we must tear them, break them apart and lengthen them. This purposeful abuse of our muscular systems creates a fair amount of body trauma and can affect our joints, ligaments and tendons as well.
Building lean strong muscle is key to so many wanted aspects of your health like increased metabolism, reduction of body fat, increased strength and better mobility. The stand-out benefits of strength training for your body is its ability to improve your overall physical appearance, performance, metabolic efficiency and reduces risk of injury when being active. So it is no surprise that looking good, feeling great and building strength comes with the price of delayed onset muscle soreness.
The term for building muscle mass is called hypertrophy which should not been confused with muscle conditioning. There are two specific approaches to the type of muscle you can develop. The first type is building muscular endurance, which gives your muscles the ability to perform better over an extended period of time. The second type is one we are all familiar with and that is lifting or resistance training. Both types of exercises can create soreness and place equal stress on your body. Endurance training through prolonged exercise results in muscle fatigue which indicates muscle damage and structural stress to your overall body's systems. The type of DOMS from endurance training such as running has the effect of hypoxic conditions or oxygen starved muscles. This adds to the stress and trauma to your muscle fibers and circulatory system. Hypertrophy, or breaking muscle down through resistance training, can create high levels of lactic acid buildup and again, this adds to the painful effects of DOMS. Each type of exercise or activity, although with different results, have similar effects of muscle damage.
Since your muscles are very good at adapting rapidly to prevent muscle damage, easy or light workouts and activity will not cause DOMS. When the intensity of your activity or workout is high, the symptoms occurring during DOMS from the micro-trauma does not come from lactic acid, but from various muscle proteins.
Delayed onset muscle soreness is most common if you are just beginning an exercise program or changing the type of activities you do on a regular basis. For example, seasoned athletes have conditioned their muscular system to a point that DOMS usually only happens when they push well beyond their normal training regimen. There is a lot of ongoing research around DOMS since there are aspects to the complex process around DOMS that are somewhat unknown.
The following points are just a few examples as to why DOMS may be occurring:
* Exercise or excessive activity causes microscopic tears in the muscles, so as stated above, this leads to micro-trauma.
* Another area to consider is around the connective tissue as it relates to certain muscle groups. It is speculated that damage caused around the connective tissue attributes to DOMS.
* Repair mechanisms triggered by inflammation swing into action post workout due to tears, lactic acid and adhesions, creating DOMS as part of the healing process.
* It is widely held that the majority of muscle damage that leads to DOMS is attributed to eccentric muscle contractions where muscle fibers are lengthened during activity. Concentric muscle contractions are best described as shortening of the muscle. Think of a muscle cramp that is a concentric contraction. An eccentric muscle contraction is lengthening of the muscle. An example of this would be running downhill - your muscles extend.
Certainly all the aspects listed above adds to the overall pain and soreness tied to DOMS. So how do we best deal with DOMS? The pain and soreness of DOMS is a very good indicator that your body is getting positive conditioning from your activity. It means you have gone beyond your current fitness level and pushed a little harder and in the process, likely improved your strength and endurance.
The following are three ways to treat the onset of DOMS:
1. Ice the affected area or soak in a very cold bath for 15 to 20 minutes if your whole body is in pain. Repeat as needed over a couple of days and you will feel better pretty quickly.
2. Myofascial release: Use a foam roller to help break apart your soft tissue adhesions which build up in your muscles. Doing this with icing can speed up the healing and dissipate DOMS within a day.
3. Anti-inflammatories: This is another way to cut the soreness and promote healing. Getting the inflammation under control in your body is always a great way to promote healing. If you're not into anti-inflammatories due to medical reasons, try blending Turmeric into a post workout protein shake. Turmeric is a curcumin which has anticoagulant and anti-inflammatory properties.
4. Get rest days between hard workouts or activity. This is always a good idea to let your body heal properly.
The good news: DOMS is a sign you're getting fit and exercising with a degree of effort that is taking you beyond your current fitness level. The other great news is DOMS is a short-term pain that leads to long-term gains.
A recognized health and wellness presenter, fitness trainer and now primal health coach in the Inland Northwest. Now in his eighth year of bringing health and wellness through his writing, teaching and coaching, Judd delivers his well-rounded message of mindfulness, nutrition and fitness to readers and clients alike.