DOMS – The Real Reason That You Feel Pain after Exercise

Have you ever wondered why your muscles hurt after exercise? Why do some workouts cause severe muscle pain and others not? Is this feeling normal? Known as DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness, this type of pain is trigger by the physical stress your muscles go through when working out. Most athletes and fitness buffs experience DOMS after intense training. The severity of pain may vary. This condition is more likely to occur in those who have just started to exercise after a long break, or changed their workout routine. It can also be a sign of overtraining.


What Is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness?


Delayed onset muscle soreness affects every athlete, causing muscle pain and stiffness. These symptoms occur several days following a workout session. It is usually triggered by exercises consisting of eccentric contractions of the muscle. Contrary to the popular belief, DOMS is not the same as regular muscle soreness, which occurs immediately after exercise.


There is a lot of controversy surrounding DOMS in the fitness industry. Some say that this problem is caused by overtraining, while others claim that lactic acid build up is the culprit. Suggested treatments are numerous and include physical therapy, heat and cold therapy, massage or foam rolling, nutritional supplements, natural remedies and much more. Many fitness trainers recommend clients to work out harder and longer as a way to reduce muscle pain. Others say that proper rest is a must for those who experience DOMS.

foam roller

What Causes DOMS?


There are several possible causes of delayed onset muscle soreness. This painful condition is triggered by your body’s inflammatory response to exercise. Your age, physical condition, and the structure of your skeletal muscular system influence DOMS too. Most symptoms last for seven to 10 days. Delayed onset muscle soreness may be caused by:


  • Tearing of the muscle’s connective tissue
  • Over-stretching
  • Over-training
  • Muscle spasms
  • Tears in the muscle tissue
  • Muscle damage
  • Lactic acid build-up
  • Eccentric overload


Researchers seem to agree that its initial cause is mechanical in nature. The degree of injury is often a function of the trained state of the muscle. Any exercise you aren’t used to can lead to delayed onset muscle soreness. Common examples include push ups, squats, weight lifting, running downhill and other exercises that consist of eccentric muscle contractions.

concentric - eccentric1



DOMS symptoms vary from one person to another and may include muscle swelling, tenderness, edema, fatigue, redness, inflammation, and loss of muscle function. In general, tenderness becomes progressively diffuse by up to 48 hours after exercise. This condition may not seem too serious, but it often results in discomfort and pain. In severe cases, DOMS may cause muscle swelling, loss of motion, loss of strength, and debilitating pain. Athletes and bodybuilders who work out regularly have a hard time dealing with these symptoms.


It’s important to understand that DOMS is part of an adaptation process that leads to greater strength and endurance. Although it can be painful, there’s no way to avoid it entirely. All you can do is to minimize its symptoms. A balanced diet, proper rest, and supplementation play a key role in muscle recovery.


Impact of DOMS on Athletic Performance


In rare cases, this condition can cause structural damage to muscle and connective tissue, leading to a decreased range of joint motion, physical impairment, and higher risk of injury. A significant reduction in strength may occur. Most times, the pain goes away within one week, which allows you to return to high intensity activities.


How to Treat and Prevent DOMS


There are many ways to reduce the pain and discomfort associated with DOMS. Treatment and management strategies depend on the severity of symptoms, and may include:


  • Massage
  • Compression
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Cryotherapy
  • Homeopathy
  • Ultrasound
  • Stretching exercises
  • Sauna and hot baths


When DOMS occurs, it’s important to allow your muscles to heal. Alternating hot and cold baths, wearing compression garments, and massaging the affected area can help. Dynamic stretching increases blood flow and activates your muscles, which helps reduce soreness. People who experience severe pain, sometimes take anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or aspirin.


There is no magic formula to reduce the painful symptoms triggered by DOMS. It’s much easier to prevent this condition than treating it. As a rule of thumb, try not to increase workout intensity and duration by more than 10 percent per week. Warm up properly and do some stretches prior to your workouts. Exercise at low intensity until the pain goes away.


If you’re training more than usual, increase your protein and carb intake. Good nutrition is essential to muscle repair. Sports supplements, such as glutamine, creatine, and BCAAs, can help prevent delayed onset muscle soreness. The more active you are and the more consistent you are with your exercise, the less you will be affected by this condition.