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Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: Part I

Posted Jan 07 2009 3:17pm
Happy New Year everyone!

There's no time for any lallygagging here at Catapult Fitness Blog as we all hopefully by now have our 2009 fitness goals in place (read: written out on a piece of paper with an associated plan of action!).

You plan to work out hard this year and rest assured you are going to be sore.

Personally, I like the feeling of post-workout muscle soreness as it makes me feel as if my time working out was well spent. I'm also a firm believer that "change" and "comfort" do not belong in the same sentence when it comes to body composition. If you want to realize change and achieve your dream physique, you are going to feel some level of discomfort along the way.

With that said, you also need to be able to differentiate between normal muscle soreness and injury. This is why I turned to my friend Matt (aka The Fitness Nerd) who has an almost encyclopedic knowledge on the topic of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).

Matt has been gracious enough to allow me to re-post his DOMS article on Catapult Fitness Blog. This article will be running as a 6-part series (yes, 6-parts ... I told you Matt was well versed on this subject!) throughout January. I highly recommend you tap in to Matt's mind by visiting his blog at

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness - Preventing And Treating

Muscle soreness after exercise can put a real kink in your training. Find out what DOMS is, how to prevent it ans what you can do to ease delayed onset muscle soreness if you get it.

Nearly anyone who works out regularly has experienced sore muscles after exercise. Sometimes you'll feel it later that night, or the next morning ... and in some cases, you may actually think you're out-of-the-woods, only to wake up two days later with stiff, tender muscles that feel as tight as rubber bands.

It's known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (also called, "DOMS"), and it's both loved and reviled by exercise fanatics. Loved, because many people view DOMS as a sign that yesterday's workout was effective, but hated at the same time because in severe cases, DOMS can prevent you from comfortably hitting the gym again.

And in the case of calf muscle soreness - which plagues runners as often as weight lifters - it can literally make going down a flight of stairs in the morning a three minute ordeal.

Symptoms of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

You probably have a case of DOMS is you experience any of the following symptoms:
  • Muscle tenderness
  • Muscle soreness
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Loss of mobility or reduced range of motion
  • Muscle tenderness, including when the muscle belly is pressed with the fingers
  • Loss of strength
  • Acute muscle twitches or spasms
The extent or duration of these symptoms may vary from person-to-person and are largely dependent on the amount of resistance - especially eccentric resistance - placed on the muscles during exercise.

There also sees to be a continuum to DOMS - so additional symptoms may appear over a period of time that can last as long as 7 to 10 days. For example, loss of strength in the muscle tends to peak immediately following exercise or within 48 hours, even in the absence of muscle soreness or other overt symptoms of DOMS.

In fact, by the time of the actual onset of muscle soreness, strength will often have returned to previous levels - although in some cases, it may take as long as five days to experience the return of peak muscle strength.

Pain and tenderness may peak 1 - 3 days after exercise, with muscle stiffness and swelling peaking 3 - 4 days after exercise. It's unusual for symptoms of DOMS to persist longer than 7 - 10 days. If they do, you may want to visit your doctor, since you could have a more serious muscle strain or tear.

Signs That You Might NOT Have DOMS: When You Should See The Doctor

DOMS is typically short-lived, and while it may cause some muscle tenderness, stiffness and reductions in mobility, it isn't serious. Generally it never warrants a visit to the doctor.

However, it is important to distinguish between DOMS and more serious strains or pulls to the muscle or connective tissue that won't simply disappear within a few days.

Signs of a more serious muscle or connective tissue strain which may require medical attention include:
  • Sharp pain during movement
  • Extremely reduced movement or mobility
  • Excessive bruising or swelling
  • Constant or intermittent throbbing or pulsating pain, even when the muscle is immobile or at rest
  • Inability to bear weight
Any or all of these symptoms can indicate a more serious strain to the muscle or connective tissue, including ligaments and tendons.

Typically, with DOMS, you'll experience tightness and soreness in muscles only during activities that cause muscle contraction, stretching or during movement. While you may experience some feeling of "muscle fatigue" with DOMS, the muscle should still be able to bear weight without too much discomfort. If the pain is constant - even at rest - or if it persists for more than 10 days, you should see a doctor.

Train hard; stay strong, Happy New Year World!



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