Are you feeling sore after starting a new exercise or increasing your exercise intensity? You may have delayed onset muscle soreness, often referred to as DOMS.
What is delayed onset muscle soreness?
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is an exercise-related pain that occurs in your muscles (not joints), after a new or unusually intense exercise. It’s especially common after exercises involving eccentric muscle contractions. In this type of exercise, the muscle is lengthening while contracting – for example, as you set a box down on a table, your biceps eccentrically contract to control the speed of the box’s descent. When walking downstairs or running down a hill, your quadriceps eccentrically contract to keep your knee from bending too fast or too far.
Why does it happen?
When you exercise, tiny micro tears occur in some of the muscle fibres. This is normal and healthy and helps to build muscle mass. However, if enough micro tears occur the inflammatory response may make your muscles may feel sore and stiff.
What does it feel like?
Delayed onset muscle soreness usually feels like a mild to intense aching in your muscles. It usually begins a day or two after you start a new exercise or increase your exercise intensity and may last up to 3 days.
How can foam rolling help prevent it?
Studies have shown that foam rolling for 10 minutes after an intense workout can help to prevent DOMS. Researchers have proposed that this may be because foam rolling increases blood circulation to the muscles and connective tissue, which helps to increase oxygen and nutrient delivery, and speed up the removal of wastes such as lactate.
How to Foam Roll to prevent Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
What to do if you get DOMS:
- Do: Put a hot pack on the sore muscle or take a warm bath.
- Do: Gently cycle on a low to no resistance setting for 10 to 15 minutes
- Do: Very gently massage the sore muscle
What not to do if you have DOMS:
- Don’t: Passively stretch the muscle.
- Don’t: Exercise the muscle intensively.
When to see a therapist:
- If you start having pain while you’re exercising, or immediately afterwards (as opposed to the next day, or a few hours later)
- If you have pain in your joints
- If you still have pain 72 hours after exercising
Written by Aislinn Braun – Registered Physiotherapist
Beardsley C, Skarabot J. Effects of self-myofascial release: A systematic review. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 2015;19: 747-758.
Cheatham SW, Kolber MJ, Cain M, Lee M. The effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roller or roller massager on joint range of motion, muscle recovery and performance: A systematic review. The International Journal of Sports Physiotherapy. 2015; 10: 827-838.