Delayed Onset Muscle Syndrome: What Is It and Best Treatment Options
If you’re someone who’s active and likes to move your body in challenging ways, you’re probably familiar with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Even if that term has you scratching your head, chances are, you’ve unknowingly experienced it without having the proper name to tie to it.
What Is DOMS?
Delayed onset muscle soreness is muscle pain that begins shortly after you’ve worked out. Rather than during or immediately following, it’s an ache (or sometimes a hit-by-a-truck feeling) that typically starts 12-24 hours after being active and can last for several days. Simply put, DOMS is the price of glory after pushing your body just a little too hard.
The severity of soreness you experience from delayed onset muscle syndrome depends on the amount of muscle damage that took place and a few other lifestyle factors that we’ll get into a bit further later in this read. Generally, greater DOMS soreness occurs when new and/or more eccentric muscle movements occur. For example, it can happen after your first cardio session when you’ve taken several months off or after you dive into your first Pilates or Zumba class without knowing what to expect (been there, done that). No matter the level, it’s never a fun ordeal and these aches can be a figurative and literal pain.
Delayed Muscle Soreness Symptoms
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, here are some of the common DOMS symptoms you may experience:
- Achy muscles that are tender to touch
- Muscle and joint stiffness
- Decreased range of motion
- Swelling in affected muscles
- Temporary muscle weakness
Fortunately, if you do end up with delayed onset muscle syndrome, there’s no need to fret as it’s only temporary. Although we can’t rid you of DOMS completely, we’ve got some quick and easy ways in which you can effectively treat and ease your symptoms – and prevent it from coming back.
What Causes Delayed Onset Muscles Soreness?
When you partake in any form of exercise you cause damage to muscle cell membranes, which in return creates inflammation. Your body is able to sense this damage (smart creatures we are), and its response is to send white blood cells and fluid to the damaged area. This causes swelling, which is what ultimately leads to the pain and stiffness.
Delayed onset muscle syndrome can affect just about anyone, from elite athletes to beginners, so the best approach is to be informed and prepared.
Now, onto a few methods for finding some relief when DOMS strikes and how to keep it from happening again and again.
How to Relieve Sore Muscles
Get moving again
One of the most reliable methods for treating DOMS is active recovery. That's right, we mean getting up and moving even though that’s what caused your affliction in the first place. A little “hair of the dog”, if you will.
In all seriousness, it’s one of the easiest ways to rid yourself of delayed muscle soreness without having to lean on the medicine cabinet. Keep it light though, with things like walking, yoga, an easy bike ride, or a gentle swim.
Roll it out
Foam rolling, also known as self-myofascial release, is a nifty self-massaging device that’s widely used by top athletes, coaches, and gym-goers to provide relief and recovery. It works by applying pressure to specific points in the body to increase blood flow and therefore release tightness and help muscles return to normal function. Basically, it helps roll out the kinks. While it’s not necessarily spa-day pleasant, it is effective as a DOMS treatment option.
Take an Epsom Salt bath
There’s nothing better than sinking into a warm bubble bath. Salt baths are especially relaxing and beneficial after a hard workout. In fact, it’s a technique that’s been used for 100s of years to ease aches and pains. This is because when dissolved in warm water, the Epsom salt breaks down into magnesium and sulphate, which are both key ingredients for reducing inflammation. Soak for 15-20 minutes for maximum results!
Take an ice bath
Alternatively, you could relieve sore muscles by turning the temperature down and sinking yourself into an ice-cold bath. The chilly temperature can help to reduce inflammation and swelling, easing a bit of the pain. In fact, some studies have shown ice baths to ease muscle soreness by 20%. Turn the tap all the way to cold and throw in a tray or two of ice cubes for good measure.
Wear compression clothing
Wearing compression sportswear, like tights, socks and arm sleeves, can be a no-fuss way to treat DOMS and accelerate the recovery of muscle function. This is because “people who wear compression clothing may find their muscles don’t become as inflamed as they would do if they’re wearing loose clothing,” says Health Advisor Ross Preston.
5 Ways to Prevent Delayed Onset Muscle Syndrome
Take time for warmups and cool downs
Preparing your body before workouts can help to increase blood flow and loosen up muscles. This greatly reduces your risk of injury and also relieves muscle soreness and pain in the aftermath. A cool down is equally as important, as it gives your body time to slow down, without a harsh stop. Even a simple 10-15 minutes can work wonders in the prevention of DOMS.
Know your limits
This one is pretty straightforward. If you’re new to exercise or new to a particular type of workout, know how far you can push yourself. AKA, check yourself before your wreck yourself. Start slow and gradually build up to the level you’d like to be at rather than trying to go all out from the get-go.
Dehydration and a lack of electrolytes can greatly contribute to delayed muscle soreness. Since your muscles are working harder, they’re going to demand more oxygen. Make sure you’re fueling up and quenching your thirst pre-, -post, and intra-workout. Aim for one-third of your body weight on normal days and even more on active days.
Get adequate rest
Believe it or not, sleep can be a really powerful tool for preventing DOMS and for building muscle in general. This is because chemicals such as HGH are naturally produced in the deep REM stages of sleep. Aim for a minimum of 7 hours of sleep each night for maximum recovery and progress.
We probably don’t have to tell you that eating healthy and fitness go hand-in-hand. Both are necessary to achieve your wellness goals. So, be sure to fill your belly with the right nutrients that will provide your body with the energy and strength it needs to power through workouts and then recover from them. Here are a few superstar foods:
- Protein-rich foods such as lean meats, cottage cheese, quinoa and yogurt
- Anti-inflammatory foods such as nuts and seeds, leafy green vegetables and berries
- Antioxidant-rich foods such as turmeric, ashwagandha, ginger, green tea and dark chocolate
- Magnesium-rich foods such as dark leafy green vegetables, avocados, whole grains and beans
A Grab-And-Go DOMS Treatment You Can Drink
For a convenient, on-the-go option to both prevent and treat DOMS, look to Dose For Soreness shots. These handy drinks are an easy way to improve the body’s natural adaptability and endurance capacity. They’re also a quick and easy way to increase your intake of potent organic ingredients like turmeric, licorice root, cinnamon bark, ashwagandha and green tea – all of which are proven to support muscle fatigue. Add one to your daily regimen and watch yourself soar without the “sore” of DOMS.