Explaining DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

Explaining DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness is the pain you experience in your muscles a few days after training. You frequently experience more soreness two days after your training session than you do directly after or even the day after the session. It is important to understand DOMS and to know what the causes are in order to find a suitable solution.

What causes DOMS?

DOMS is caused by microscopic tears that occur in the muscle after intense training. This is an important factor for muscle growth but unfortunately causes a painful sensation. After the microscopic tears occur, inflammation starts to set in and causes the soreness experienced. This happens after 12-24 hours. Most intense exercises cause DOMS, but high intensity eccentric exercises are especially known to cause DOMS.

What are the signs of DOMS?

  • Soreness when touching the affected muscle
  • Pain and stiffness that affects range of motion when moving
  • Swelling, soreness and heat
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Decreased short-term muscle strength


Does lactic acid contribute to DOMS?

It was long believed that lactic acid plays a role in DOMS, but this is a popular misconception. Although lactic acid can increase muscle fatigue and decrease muscle performance by increasing the acidity levels of muscles, it does not have an effect on the microscopic tears caused by DOMS.

Did you exercise hard enough if you do not get DOMS?

DOMS is not an indicator of a sufficient or insufficient workout. When starting with training or using a new program it is normal to experience DOMS. However, your muscle adapts over time causing less and less soreness and stiffness. This does not then mean that you did not train hard enough.

How can I alleviate the pain caused by DOMS?

Massage – Massaging sore muscles 48 hours after exercise yields the best results.

Keep moving – Avoiding all forms of activity when sore may only increase the duration of your DOMS. It is best to take a day off if you are experiencing extreme DOMS. If possible, try and do slow, light movements like walking or a slow jog or stretch. Avoid high intensity cardio or power exercises.

Recovery supplements – Stack up on your protein and amino acids. Your protein shake can help to recover your muscles faster and repair the damage more effectively. An amino acid drink can also aid recovery and hydration of the muscle. USN offers a wide range of recovery drinks like PRO RECOVER, BCAA 12:1:1, PURE GLUTAMINE, a wide variety of protein shakes depending on your goal, ALL9™ AMINO, BCAA AMINO + and much more.

Topical pain ointments – Ointments that contain Arnica have been shown effective to relieve the pain caused by DOMS.

Ice baths – Submerging in cold water (between 10 -15 °C) for 10 – 15 minutes can lower the degree of DOMS experienced.

How can I reduce the risk of DOMS?

  • Warm up the muscles you will be exercising.
  • Cool down – stretch and do slow paced exercises on the activated muscles at the end of your session.
  • Stay hydrated – dehydrated muscles tire easier.

The important factor regarding DOMS is to remember to take it easy in the beginning. If you are coming back from a period of inactivity or starting a new training plan, allow your body time to ease into the intensity and volume before pushing yourself to the limits. Rather make use of smaller weekly increases than massive monthly increases in load, volume & intensity. Always seek medical advice when you experience excessive pain or if the pain does not subside within a few days.


Machado, A., Ferreira, P., Micheletti, J., de Almeida, A., Lemes, Í., Vanderlei, F., Netto Junior, J. and Pastre, C., 2015. Can Water Temperature and Immersion Time Influence the Effect of Cold Water Immersion on Muscle Soreness? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Medicine, 46(4), pp.503-514.

Guo, J., Li, L., Gong, Y., Zhu, R., Xu, J., Zou, J. and Chen, X., 2020. Massage Alleviates Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness After Strenuous Exercise: A Systematic Review And Meta-Analysis.

Braun, W. and Sforzo, G., 2020. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). [online] Acsm.org. Available at: https://www.acsm.org/docs/default-source/files-for-resource-library/delayed-onset-muscle-soreness-(doms).pdf?sfvrsn=8f430e18_2 [Accessed 23 June 2020].

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