How to Prevent Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

DOMS is short for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness; It's also known as "muscle fever."

It is a tender, yet painful muscle soreness that you experience 24 to 48 hours after doing physical activity. DOMS are especially prominent after doing an exercise or motion you’re not used to. The biggest trigger however are eccentric contractions (lowering weights, downhill running, downward motion of squats, etc).

Genetic factors and biological stresses can make DOMs worse from person to person. Let's talk a bit more about what causes it.

The Causes of DOMS

man with doms

Science has yet to explain the true root cause of DOMs. Over the years there have been a few explanations:

  1. It's caused by lactic acid buildup during exercise.
  2. It's caused by muscle spasms.
  3. Caused by tears in the muscle, its connective tissues, and tendons as we exercise.

The Reality About DOMS and Why It Occurs

Among the three, the third is the most popular idea. Many people believe we experience DOMS because of micro-tears and tissue damage from doing exercises we aren't accustomed to.

This may also be confirmed through the use of an electron microscope. If you examine normal muscle tissue you'll notice a regular structure/architecture to the muscle fibre. However if you examine the tissues with DOMs, the tissues will be damaged/disrupted down to the fibre level.

How Does DOMS Occur?

The first thing you’ll notice when DOMS starts to occur is strenuous muscular contractions because of structural damage in the muscles.

Next, the sarcoplasmic reticulum is damaged. This membrane is responsible for releasing calcium, it's also a vessel that aids in muscular contractions.

Once damaged, the calcium stored in the sarcoplasmic reticulum will leak out and goes straight into the mitochondria, which then results in inhibiting ATP production. When that happens, you feel weaker and notice an overall lack of energy.

If left untreated, the calcium will buildup and will activate enzymes that degrade cellular proteins, including actin and myosin.

Next, the damaged membrane combined with muscle protein breakdown result in an inflammatory process that increases histamine production of free radicals.

Lastly, combining the histamine and free radicals together, it will cause swelling around the muscle fiber that stimulates free nerve endings (pain receptors). This pain in the muscle is what we refer to as DOMs.

How to Prevent DOMS

As we noted above, it's unclear of the exact root cause of DOMs. Since the cause is unknown, the treatment and preventative methods are also up in the air.

There is no way to avoid DOMS. It's an entirely normal thing when it comes to building muscle and strength. Any changes to your regular workout routine should be gradual though, this makes the pain far less severe.

There are many suggested methods to prevent and treat them. To name a few of the popular ones:

  • NSAIDs
  • Massage therapy
  • Fish Oil
  • Heat
  • Glutamine supplementation
  • Stretching/Warmup
  • Compression equipment

Truly the best way to deal with DOMs is an old saying my Dad told me when I was younger: "Rub some dirt on it."

The best way to deal with DOMs is to get it over with and deal with the initial pain. Get a good nights sleep, take a day off, and then go back to working out. The pain will be far less severe and eventually go away.

To Sum Things UP

  • The cause of DOMS is completely unclear. It's a pain that's low priority in the medical field.
  • It is a painful sensation that causes swelling.
  • The pain will be delayed for 24-48 hours and then become far less severe over time.
  • The best way to to prevent it is to deal with the pain. Get good sleep, take a rest day, and then come back to working out.
Robert Woods
At POP, we strive to provide practical preventative advice. We strive to figure out ways to prevent problems that people might have trouble grasping. We've found that other sources have trouble articulating concepts in a way that regular people can understand.
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