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DOMS – How to Deal With Sore Muscles From Exercise

Ever felt that soreness in your quadriceps after cycling a difficult and long route? What about the arm and chest soreness that results from push-ups at the gym? Have your back muscles ever felt stiff for days after lifting heavy loads or doing a new form of exercise?

If your answer is yes, then you’ve most likely experienced a type of muscle soreness called DOMS. In most cases, people experience nothing other than tiredness from exercise for the first 12-24 hours. Then the soreness kicks in, muscles become stiff and tender. The effect can last for days and can prevent further exercise in extreme cases. Muscle soreness is usually the result of intense exercise but can also result from unfamiliar exercises. Even a fairly easy jaunt on a bike or a game of football when you don’t normally do these types of sports can set you up for sore quads, stiff hamstrings, and tight calves and lower back muscles.

In this article learn what DOMS is, what the effects are, and how to treat it.

What Does DOMS Stand for?

DOMS is an acronym for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Delayed Onset just means that we don’t experience the soreness and stiffness until a period has passed. Usually 24-48 hours. The strongest effects of DOMS often occur 2 days (48 hours) after working out.

The root cause of delayed onset muscle soreness is exercise and specifically eccentric exercise. Eccentric, in this case, has nothing to do with wacky or unusual exercises. It refers to the phase of a muscle contraction as it produces a force. Your muscles can produce force while you contract in the concentric phase (example: pulling a weight towards you in a bicep curl) or the eccentric phase (example: lowering the weight away from you as you finish the bicep curl).

Lowering yourself slowly during a push-up exercise is another example of focusing on the eccentric phase. Another example is when you lower yourself from a pull-up or chin-up bar. Performing this movement more slowly will really emphasize the eccentric phase and hit the muscles harder.

Having read the above paragraph you might think that eccentric exercises are something to avoid. But to progress in training, eccentric type exercises can be an excellent way of building strength, flexibility and helping to prevent injury. ‘Damaging’ the muscles slightly makes your body rebuild the fibres as a stronger unit.

DOMS and Lactic Acid

It was previously believed that lactic acid buildup was the cause of muscle soreness following exercise. In fact, many people still claim this to be valid. But recent research has found this not to be the case.
In fact, micro-tears in the muscle fibres and inflammation are believed to be the causes of muscle tenderness.

How to Know if I have DOMS?

If your quadriceps ache as you try to get out of the car or you’re having trouble walking downstairs a day or two following intense/new exercise, you’re experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness. If you’re biceps, shoulders, and back are sore from that long tennis game you’ve probably got it. If it hurts your stomach when laughing or you can’t pull your knees up without tenderness in the abdominals you’ve overworked your abs and are suffering from muscle soreness.

The symptoms include:

  • Sore muscles that are also sore to touch.
  • Achey, flu-like sensation in the muscles.
  • Muscle weakness (example: legs giving way as you walk downstairs).
  • Decreased flexibility and range of motion

Just be aware that the soreness arrives at least the day after a workout and can last up to seven days. Most of the time the pain goes away after a day or two.

Should I Work out if I Have Muscle Soreness?

If you’re suffering from DOMS, then vigorous exercise will be neither pleasant nor helpful. We recommend active recovery in the form of walking, jogging, swimming. Remember, the muscles are recovering from the microscopic tears that intense exercise has induced. They won’t be at their peak strength or capacity and it’s better to help them recover than to make them work hard again. Working out when you’re sore is a recipe for injury, over-training, and irritability.

DOMS Recovery

Don’t forget recovery. In our busy lives, we so often push ourselves to our limits in work, play, and sports. We rarely find the time to unwind and let our bodies heal. Rest and recovery are as important as exercise and this is doubly true for muscle soreness. Avail of the various treatments and techniques for speeding up the recovery process.

Treatment for DOMS


As discussed, a light workout as active recovery is a great way to pump blood back into the sore muscles and speed up recovery. The key is to not overdo it. Resting is essential for DOMS recovery but using the muscles will help stimulate cell regeneration. If you’ve been lifting weights, try swimming. If you normally cycle, try jogging. If Judo is your thing, try yoga. Move the body and feel better about it.

Ice & Heat

Ice can help with inflammation and heat can help with recovery. However, lots of research has been performed on these topics and nobody has yet been able to find conclusive evidence for the efficacy of one treatment over the other.

Many health professionals will have their favourite methods for dealing with DOMS, and there are good indications that Ice and moist heat (as opposed to dry heat) can work to reduce the soreness and the time to recover. But the jury is still out on whether you should spend your time applying ice or heat packs. The other treatments on this list will give you a better return on investment as far as your time goes.


Stretching and mobility work can help circulation and improve the range of motion. Mobility exercises before and after a workout can help keep the muscles strong and supple.
The same exercises, performed while you’re feeling the effects of DOMS, can be used to speed up the recovery process. They will at least restore temporary range of motion in the muscles.

Foam rolling

foam rolling for DOMS relief

Myofascial release through foam rolling or using a pressure ball can be used to increase short term and long term flexibility. It’s a simple technique but can require some skill to get to the knots and tight areas.

Grab a foam roller and lie on the floor. Lie your body on the roller on the muscle groups that you want to treat. Slowly roll back and forth and from side to side putting pressure on the tight spots.

It’s a sort of self-administered manual therapy. The problem with this type of ‘treatment’ is that the user may not fully understand how to release tension using tools such as a foam roller. There is also a tendency for people to avoid the most important tight spots as these are uncomfortable.

Creams, Gels, and Potions

Tiger balm and creams that promote muscle pain relief can be effective in the short term. They do, in fact, relieve pain but only temporarily. The cooling sensation will reduce soreness but won’t help speed up recovery. The danger is that as the muscle becomes less tender we make the mistake of thinking that we can exercise again at a high intensity. The muscle will still be in a weaker state than before, and injury can occur.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also help with the pain. At The Bodywise Clinic, we will always recommend the natural way to treat health-related conditions. Although certain medications can help with inflammation and reduce soreness, the underlying issue of muscle weakness will remain.


Last, but definitely not least, is massage therapy. Use massage to prevent and treat delayed onset muscle soreness.

Deep tissue massage is a type of massage that uses moderately fast strokes with some weight in the fingers, hands and arms when applying pressure. It’s not designed as a relaxation massage although many people will find the pressure to be relaxing (especially afterwards), the goal is to release tension in the muscles and joints. Deep tissue massage is very effective at removing toxins and moving blood to areas that need it most.

Deep Tissue Massage Therapy

Many people believe deep tissue and sports massage therapies are only for competitive athletes. It’s true that elite sports people will get the maximum benefit from well-administered massage that breaks up scar tissue, knots, and increases blood flow. However, less competitive athletes and weekend warriors can also benefit greatly from the improved muscle function thanks to the stimulating effects of deep tissue massage.

People that take part in the following sports will find their recovery time shortened and soreness reduced thanks to deep-tissue massage:
Football, rugby, CrossFit, martial arts, mixed martial arts, triathlon, long-distance running, track events, and weight-lifting.

The benefits of Deep Tissue Massage and Sports Massage for sufferers of DOMS are:

  • Increased training capacity. The quicker you recover and the less severe the muscle tenderness the more training you can fit in.
  • Better circulation. One of the functions of blood is to bring toxins to the liver for processing. The more efficiently the blood in your body circulates the better it can eliminate toxins and other wastes.
  • Muscle repair. By putting pressure on affected areas of muscle a massage therapist can break up scar tissue deep in the fibres. This enables blood to flow freely to these tight, restricted areas.
  • Increased mobility. You’ll feel more agile and flexible thanks to the effects of a good quality massage. The muscles and joints that were tight and immobile will have less resistance, making your life a lot easier in the short and long-term.
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Deep Tissue Massage

One of the best natural treatments for DOMS relief

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