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Understanding DOMS Meaning: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Hayley Dawes
23 October 2023

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Ever experienced that achy, sore feeling in your muscles a day or two after an intense workout? You’re not alone. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS, is a common phenomenon that affects fitness enthusiasts and professional athletes alike. In this blog post, we will delve into the world of DOMS, uncovering its causes, symptoms, and effective treatment strategies. Moreover, we will debunk common myths and misconceptions surrounding this intriguing post-exercise discomfort, as well as discuss DOMS meaning.

Embark on this enlightening journey as we explore the scientific explanations behind DOMS, equipping you with the knowledge to manage and potentially prevent this muscular nemesis from hindering your fitness progress.

Short Summary

  • DOMS is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness caused by muscle fiber damage from eccentric exercises.
  • Symptoms include pain, stiffness, and tenderness that can be alleviated through active recovery, massage techniques, and heat therapy.
  • Lactic acid buildup does not cause DOMS. Over-the-counter pain relievers are ineffective treatments for it.

Understanding DOMS: Definition and Causes

DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, is a post-workout muscle pain that occurs 24-72 hours after exercise. This soreness primarily stems from eccentric exercises and onset muscle soreness, which is muscle fiber damage.

But what exactly are eccentric exercises, and how do they contribute to DOMS? Let’s unravel this mystery by delving into the world of eccentric exercises and the microscopic muscle fiber damage that ensues.

Eccentric Exercises

Eccentric exercises involve eccentric muscle contractions, which are lengthening contractions and are more likely to cause DOMS than concentric or isometric exercises. Imagine yourself lowering a dumbbell during a bicep curl or descending in a squat – these are prime examples of eccentric exercise in action.

But why do these seemingly innocent movements wreak havoc on our muscles, causing the dreaded DOMS? The answer lies in the unique nature of eccentric contractions, which place greater stress on individual muscle fibers than their concentric counterparts. This increased stress results in microscopic damage to the muscle fibers, ultimately leading to inflammation and soreness.

Muscle Fiber Damage

The microscopic tears in muscle fibers that occur during eccentric exercises are the primary culprits behind exercise induced muscle damage, also known as DOMS, which can also cause connective tissue damage and muscle injury. These microtraumas trigger an inflammatory response, leading to soreness, stiffness, and tenderness in the affected muscles.

But fear not, for engaging in light exercise can help alleviate some of these discomforting symptoms. In fact, this adaptation is known in sports medicine as the repeated-bout effect, which protects muscles from further damage through subsequent bouts of eccentric contractions, as opposed to strenuous exercise.

Symptoms of DOMS

DOMS presents itself with varying levels of muscle pain, stiffness, and tenderness, typically peaking between 24-72 hours after exercise. These symptoms can persist for up to 7 days, serving as a reminder of the microscopic muscle fiber damage inflicted during your workout.

But how intense can this pain get, and what factors influence its duration and intensity?

Pain Intensity and Duration

The intensity and duration of DOMS symptoms can vary depending on the individual and the type of exercise performed. Pain intensity is often described as sore, aching, and painful, ranging from mild to moderate.

Imagine the sensation of a deep, nagging muscle ache that intensifies when you attempt to move or stretch the affected area, almost feeling like muscle spasms. This is the reality of DOMS for many fitness enthusiasts, as they navigate the fine line between pushing their limits and managing post-workout discomfort.

Muscle Stiffness and Tenderness

Muscle stiffness and tenderness are common DOMS symptoms, often accompanied by a decrease in range of motion. Stiffness can make it difficult to move the affected area, while tenderness creates an uneasy sensation when pressure is applied to the muscles. If left unaddressed, these symptoms can result in further muscle damage and pain.

So, what can be done to treat and potentially prevent DOMS?

Treating DOMS: Effective Strategies

Fortunately, there are effective strategies to help alleviate DOMS symptoms and promote muscle recovery. Active recovery, massage techniques, and heat therapy have all been shown to reduce muscle soreness and inflammation.

By incorporating these treatment strategies into your post-workout routine, you can bounce back quicker and perform at your best in subsequent training sessions.

Active Recovery

Active recovery involves engaging in low-intensity exercise or stretching to help alleviate DOMS symptoms. Think of gentle activities like walking, swimming, or light stretching, which promote blood flow and reduce muscle stiffness.

By incorporating active recovery into your fitness routine, you allow your muscles to recuperate and adapt, potentially minimizing the intensity and duration of DOMS.

Massage Techniques

Massage can be immensely beneficial in reducing DOMS symptoms by decreasing inflammation, increasing blood flow, and relieving muscle tension and swelling. Self-massage with a foam roller is a convenient and effective option for those seeking relief from DOMS at home. The simple act of rolling out tight, sore muscles can provide significant relief, allowing you to stay on track with your exercise program.

Foam rolling can be done before or after a workout, and can be used to make foam.

Heat Therapy

Heat therapy is a great way to treat DOMS pain and stiffness. Warm baths, as well as moist heat wraps, can be incredibly effective. The application of heat to affected muscles promotes relaxation, reduces inflammation, and encourages blood flow, which in turn facilitates muscle recovery.

So, next time you’re experiencing those pesky DOMS symptoms, consider treating yourself to a warm bath or heat pack to soothe your aching muscles.

Preventing DOMS: Tips and Techniques

While DOMS may be an inevitable part of intense exercise, there are steps you can take to minimize its impact on your fitness journey. Gradually increasing exercise intensity, staying hydrated, and maintaining proper nutrition can all help prevent DOMS and promote optimal muscle recovery.

By implementing these preventative measures, you can continue to challenge yourself in the gym without the nagging discomfort of DOMS holding you back.

Gradual Exercise Progression

One of the most effective ways to prevent DOMS is by gradually increasing exercise intensity. Here are some steps to follow.

  1. Begin with low-intensity exercises.
  2. Incrementally enhance the intensity over time.
  3. Allow your muscles to adapt.
  4. Reduce the risk of DOMS.

Incorporating rest days and adhering to a well-rounded exercise program can also help minimize the likelihood of experiencing DOMS while optimizing overall fitness and performance.

Hydration and Nutrition

Staying hydrated and consuming anti-inflammatory foods can play a crucial role in preventing DOMS and promoting muscle recovery. Drinking adequate amounts of water before, during, and after exercise helps regulate cell volume and maintain proper body temperature, aiding in muscle recovery.

Additionally, incorporating fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish into your diet can help reduce inflammation and facilitate muscle recovery.

DOMS Misconceptions: Debunking Common Myths

Despite the prevalence of DOMS, misconceptions continue to circulate regarding its causes and treatments. Two common myths include the belief that DOMS is caused by lactic acid buildup and that over-the-counter pain relievers are effective treatments.

Let’s set the record straight and debunk these widespread misconceptions.

Lactic Acid Myth

Contrary to popular belief, DOMS is not caused by lactic acid buildup, but rather by muscle fiber damage and inflammation. The lactic acid myth has been largely debunked, with research showing that microscopic tears in muscle fibers and the resulting inflammatory response are the true culprits behind DOMS.

So next time you hear someone blame lactic acid for their post-workout soreness, you can confidently set the record straight.

Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Although over-the-counter pain relievers like NSAIDs are commonly used to treat various aches and pains, they are not recommended for treating DOMS. These medications may not provide significant relief and can have potential side effects, such as stomach upset, nausea, and an increased risk of bleeding.

Instead, consider the aforementioned treatment strategies like active recovery, massage techniques, and heat therapy to effectively manage DOMS symptoms.


Throughout this blog post, we have explored the intricacies of DOMS, shedding light on its causes, symptoms, and effective treatment strategies. By understanding the role of eccentric exercises and muscle fiber damage, we can better manage and potentially prevent this common post-workout discomfort. Remember to gradually progress in exercise intensity, stay hydrated, and maintain proper nutrition to minimize the impact of DOMS on your fitness journey.

As you continue to push your limits and strive for greater fitness achievements, let the knowledge gained from this blog post serve as a guide to help you navigate the challenges of DOMS. With the right approach and persistence, you can conquer this muscular nemesis and emerge stronger than ever.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are 3 symptoms of DOMS?

Symptoms of DOMS include delayed muscle soreness, stiffness, and decreased range of motion.

Is DOMS good for muscle?

No, DOMS is not good for muscle. Muscle damage and DOMS may play a small part in muscle growth, but should not be used as the primary indicator of growth following a workout.

Examples such as running marathons and cycling confirm this.

How long does DOMS last for?

DOMS can generally last anywhere from 3 to 5 days, but you should start to feel some relief after the first few days.

Exercising with DOMS is also possible and might even benefit your recovery.

How do you treat DOMS?

To reduce the duration and symptoms of DOMS, you can try supplements, use a foam roller, use pain relief creams, take an Epsom salt bath, apply heat or cold treatments, rest, and reduce intensity and duration of exercise.

Additionally, anti-inflammatory medications, massage, compression garments, and some supplements may also help.

Is DOMS caused by lactic acid?

Contrary to popular belief, lactic acid is not the cause of DOMS. This misconception was debunked in the 1980s, and research suggests that DOMS is caused by a cascade of physiological effects in response to microscopic trauma sustained during intense exercise.

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