It’s your first time to the gym or it’s been years since you’ve gone to the gym. But finally, today you raised your willpower to workout hard and change your lifestyle. You are super hyped and boosted high, so you get right off the bed and go to the gym and lift the heaviest weights you can handle and hit the maximum reps. Your muscles start to ache, and eventually, you stop when the soreness is too much. After a rest for a couple of minutes, the pain goes away and you feel good to go again. Same happens while running. The faster and longer you run, your legs feel sorer.
This immediate soreness is known as acute muscle soreness and happens when you work out very vigorously by causing chemical and fluid buildup in the muscle tissue. When the muscle starts losing its power, the soreness gets worse. But the soreness goes away after resting for several minutes. Then after 8 hours or so of your workout, you started feeling a different soreness in your muscle. It is not too bad but it definitely hurts. 24 hours later, your muscles start to get really sore and stiff to the point that you can barely even move. This is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS or sometimes muscle fever. So basically it’s troublesome if you’re starting or restarting an exercise regimen.
Cause of DOMS
If you’re a regular into the fitness world then you’re probably familiar with DOMS. But if you’re new, DOMS will scare you away from ever working out again. The cause of DOMS is from eccentric (lengthening) contraction, or when a muscle becomes longer while under tension. An example would be the descending portion of a biceps curl, causing the biceps branchii muscle to lengthen. Isometric (static) exercise causes much less soreness and concentric (shortening) exercise causes none.
The exact cause of pain from DOMS is unknown, but the most widely accepted reason is that during these eccentric movements, very small microscopic tears happens in the muscle at a cellular level. Pain receptors in the muscle then send pain signals to the brain, and calcium builds up in the muscle thereby causing inflammation.
Prevention and Treatment
There are several ways to relieve the pain from DOMS, including a long list of things you can consume. A study showed that the people taking supplements of the amino acid L-glutamine were able to significantly release the effect of DOMS. Another study showed that intaking caffeine 1 hour before exercise was able to significantly decrease pain from DOMS on the second and third days after the workout. All you need is to intake 400mg of caffeine, which is equal to about 3-4 cups of coffee. But this might not be a good idea for late-night exercisers.
Other supplements that have shown to help alleviate DOMS are creatine, fish oil, taurine, branch chained amino acids, and citrulline malate.
But to really alleviate DOMS, it’s less about what you take and more about what you do. The best way to alleviate DOMS in long-term is to progress slowly into a new exercise program by giving muscle enough time to adapt to the new stress being placed. Going with lighter weights, in the beginning, is recommended. Over the time, soreness from DOMS can disappear completely as long as the muscle is continuously exercised and get into the routine. The soreness usually disappears within about 72 hours after appearing. Studies have also shown that self-myofascial release or self-massage in the form of foam rolling, hot baths or a sauna visit can alleviate DOMS as well. But the most important thing you can do to alleviate DOMS, especially when beginning a new program is by getting plenty of sleep. The body recovers the most from daily activities when asleep, which will also help in recovering from muscle soreness and DOMS. Not sleeping enough can cause DOMS to last longer than it should. So make sure to get all the rest you can.