What the Heck is DOMS? (And How Can I Prevent It?)

David Reavy
by David Reavy
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What the Heck is DOMS? (And How Can I Prevent It?)

Q. What the heck is DOMS? And what can I do to prevent getting it?

You know the feeling when you try a new workout and you get up the next morning and feel fine? You think to yourself, “Well, I’m in better shape than I thought.” Then you wake up on day two barely able to lift your leg, let alone walk up stairs, because everything hurts. That’s DOMS: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. DOMS sets in a couple of days after a workout, leaving you achy and stiff—and it’s totally normal, so there’s no need to panic. On the bright side, DOMS signals that you worked muscles in a way you haven’t recently and that your body is getting stronger, so greet it with open arms (if you can lift them that far).

To get technical, it is believed that DOMS is caused by microscopic damage in muscle tissue during eccentric activities. Which means, while a muscle is performing a lengthening contraction, such as during the coming down phase of a bicep curl, it is more prone to tiny tears. This is how muscles begin to re-build and adapt to new activity. I like to tell my patients that you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. By breaking down the muscles, you rebuild them, making you stronger and more durable overtime. The good news is that the effects of DOMS will reduce as you repeat those movements again and again.

Still, it’s important to differentiate between normal muscle soreness and injury. DOMS is a natural physiological response to activity. It can be annoying, but it isn’t limiting—it will go away on its own, and will improve with movement. Injury, on the other hand, needs to be taken care of. If you experience sharp pain, the kind that inhibits normal function or increases with movement, it is a good idea to get checked out by a healthcare professional.

There is no “cure” for DOMS, and the only way to totally prevent it is to avoid new workouts, which I don’t advise. It’s important to keep challenging yourself and moving in different planes. Yes, there will be attendant soreness, but your body can and will adapt.

To manage the pain and soreness caused by DOMS, try massage, warm Epson salt baths, or an anti-inflammatory, such as Advil. Icing is often recommended, but I personally don’t care for that treatment. Cold compresses will constrict veins and reduce blood flow to the area, and I like to make sure blood and nutrients are flowing to speed up muscle repair. I also suggest using a foam roller on tight muscles to work out the kinks. Anything that brings movement into the sore area will help, even if all you really want to do is hold perfectly still.

Finally, always perform a dynamic warm up before any activity. A dynamic warm up is a specific movement pattern that will turn on the muscles you need to properly do a movement—it is not static stretching (think: reaching toward your toes and holding). Warming up by firing up the muscles you will be using will help you during your workout and improve recovery.

Have you ever experienced DOMS? Do you have a question you’d like David Reavy answer? Share in the comments!

About the Author

David Reavy
David Reavy

React_logoDavid Reavy is the founder and CEO of React Physical Therapy and creator of the Reavy Method. David’s own experiences with the limitations of traditional physical therapy inspired him to develop the Reavy Method, now recognized by the Illinois Physical Therapy Association as a continuing education course for physical therapists. The Reavy Method creates strength through balance using dynamic assessment, muscle release, and muscle activation. By balancing the body, the Reavy Method not only brings patients back to their previous level of function but also helps them become stronger than ever. David is a board certified clinical specialist in orthopedic physical therapy with credentials from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Past and current clients include Matt Forte, Tracy McGrady, and the many clients that come through React Physical Therapy in Chicago, IL every day. Follow React Physical Therapy on Twitter and Facebook.

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23 responses to “What the Heck is DOMS? (And How Can I Prevent It?)”

  1. Avatar Brian Collins Jr says:

    David Reavy – any recommendations on a good introduction to working out for two people (myself and my wife) who are rather overweight and out of shape (plus i am asthmatic to boot). We’ve started walking and are looking at getting some light barbells… but i know ultimately, to lose weight we have to burn calories and doing that requires getting more cardio in…but any time we try to do any sort of cardio we seem to leave ourselves feeling ill.

    • Avatar robin jackson says:

      Great job! Starting is the hardest part! Try walking uphill. But if thats thats not doable at least walk faster using your arms more too. And walk longer.

      • Avatar Brian Collins Jr says:

        *nods* The biggest challenge is time… our work schedules are varied and often by the time we get home it’s either getting late and dark or the weather sucks lol. And we both find that using a treadmill hurts our knees/ankles. An eliptical bike seems to be okay though

        • Avatar robin jackson says:

          On dr oz a couple days ago he said raisons soaked in gin (no lie), helps knees, 0nly 7 or 8 though. Good luck,

    • Avatar Melissa Martin says:

      I just started counting 3/28/14, i have been along with counting do just dance they have a sweat on the game i started at 10 mins and now i do 40 for me that was easy and the kids join in.

    • Avatar YMason says:

      How about a walking or yoga tape that you can both do together in the evenings? Leslie Sansone has some very good walking tapes that are good for beginners. I started out doing hers when I began. 🙂

      Yoga: doing stretches together is very fun! Good luck in your journey.

  2. Avatar Robert Wales says:

    Thanks for the explanation! I’ve been doing P90x and noticed that the second morning is always much worse than the first, which is different from other exercises I’ve done in the past where the first morning brought the most soreness.

    • Avatar Brendan Whitman says:

      Robert, I know exactly what you’re talking about! LOL P90x is awesome like that, finding muscles we forgot we had. I always have a glass of Results & Recovery drink right after my workout. Its designed to significantly reduce DOMS, it really works, and it tastes like an orange dreamcicle. I can tell you more if you want.

  3. Avatar Shelly St Martin says:

    Does age factor in on length of recovery from that type of workout (Im 52)? I climbed stairs to prepare for hiking up 14ers, first time after awhile, and I can’t walk for days it seems. Any recommendations for food or supplements to help recovery?

  4. Avatar MinT says:

    I love DOM! I know i’m getting a good workout and a great indication that i’m building muscles.

  5. Avatar Gez_d says:

    I find vitamin C helps minimise this pain, if not remove it altogether. I’ve been taking a couple of vitamin chewable tablets after a new workout for years and it always works for me

  6. Avatar Maiko says:

    Does BCCA has any effect in DOMS ?

  7. Avatar Prathima Koneru says:

    Bananas,watermelon and any foods with electrolytes help with Doms!also 8 hours after the workout to some yoga/stretching for 15 minutes,the next day do some king of active recovery like a walk etc and additional yoga/stretching,this helps a lot.

  8. Avatar jillianvet says:

    BCAAs are genius. I’ve not had any DOMS since I’ve been taking them despite some crazy training sessions.

  9. Thanks for explaining. I guess I’m doing it right! 2nd day after is always a sore one for me… then it goes away pretty quick after that. 🙂 To be honest, I love the soreness… lets me know that my workout was effective! Woo go me!

  10. Avatar Michelle R says:

    As a Certified Personal Trainer myself, I want to say this article is SPOT ON and full of good information. DOMS isn’t something I hate (although it can be brutal lol) but I welcome it. The signs and signals that my muscles are changing and growing make me a happy woman!

  11. Avatar Michelle R says:

    Oh! And don’t forget the benefits of BCAAs (BRANCHED CHAINED AMINO ACIDS) and Glutamine! 🙂

  12. […] 16. DOMS: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness Muscle pain and stiffness that sets in 24 to 48 hours after a tough workout can be blamed on DOMS. It’s perfectly normal and is typically a sign that your body is responding well to physical exertion. Check out this post to learn more about the phenomenon and how you can ease soreness. […]

  13. […] after a hard workout feeling a little tight and achy. (You’re likely experiencing DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness.)On the flip side, if you did 50 sit-ups and now your lower back feels sore, that’s an indication […]

  14. Avatar laquintana says:

    Sprinkle ginger in your bath water and soak! I found this out somewhere online and tried it. it works

  15. Avatar MomGettingActive says:

    I used to get it the day after any exercise and it would be crippling for almost a week. I tried all the recommendations (though not Epsom baths since I’m allergic), but nothing helped. Even doctors were baffled that 10 minutes of walking 1mph caused such debilitating DOMS. My husband scoured the internet and came across arnica montana. I’ve been taking it religiously before and after any workout as well as before bed and it’s nothing short of amazing. I now can do 30 minutes or more at 3mph (just below a jog for me).

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