< Back to More Help

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)

I’m sure many of you have experienced muscle soreness after exercise, especially after starting something new or increasing the intensity of something you already do. This is normal and called DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). It can affect anyone regardless of their fitness levels.

What is DOMS?

DOMS is a term often used to describe muscle soreness, sometimes experienced after activity. It typically last for 2 to 5 days with the first 1 to 2 days being the most intense. It is caused by small microtrauma to muscle fibres when muscles are pushed harder than they are used to. The NHS website notes this could be caused by starting a new exercise program, changing your exercise routine or an increase in the intensity or duration of your current routine. This doesn’t have to be exclusive to playing a sport or a gym routine, it could be anything that involves any type of increased physical exertion such as gardening or work around the house. That means anyone could potentially suffer from DOMS.

It is important to differentiate DOMS from an acute muscle injury. DOMS is felt post exercise (for up to 5 days) as a muscular ache or stiffness rather than a sharp sudden pain that you would get if you were to suddenly injure a muscle during activity. For advice on what to do in that instance, please read https://www.theodihamclinic.co.uk/injuries/.

How to minimise the effect of DOMS

It is important to start any new activity program gradually, allowing the body to slowly adapt so plan how you are going to increase your time in the gym or e.g. in the garden. However do remember that DOMS is just your body’s natural way of adapting to exercise and a little muscle soreness after exercise is normal.

Active rest is a key component in trying to reduce DOMS. Active rest means any low level activity such as gentle walking or mobility exercises that gets the muscle and joints moving. This is said to aid blood flow around the body which can help speed up muscle repair. During active rest it is not uncommon to see athletes wearing compression garments to help further with the effects of muscle soreness. These can range from compressionsocks to full head to toe compressiongarments!

Can massage, foam rolling and stretching help?

Your first instinct if you feel the effects of DOMS may be to stretch. This should be kept gentle and light especially in the first1-2 days of soreness.

Massaging has also been shown to help with muscle soreness in a similar way to active rest by again aiding blood flow. It is important that any massage is done gently especially in the early stages of DOMS (first 1-2 days).

Foam Rolling can achieve similar post exercise benefits and can be a useful tool to have at home. There is no standardised protocol in terms of how long to foam roll for or when exactly to do it, but most people tend to use them straight after exercise. Foam Rollers can be ordered from The Odiham Clinic.

As you can see the general idea to help delayed onset muscle soreness is gentle movement based exercise/stretching and massage/foam rolling. Our Osteopaths at The Odiham Clinic would be more than happy to help if you have any further questions regarding DOMS or any other musculoskeletal issues.