DOMS is the commonly used abbreviation of ‘Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness’ and is the pain and stiffness felt in muscles a while after unusual or strenuous exercise.
Felt most strongly from 24 to 72 hours after exercise, it is thought to be caused by lengthening or ‘Eccentric’ exercise, which causes ‘micro-trauma’ or small-scale damage to muscle fibres. The muscle adapts rapidly after exercise, to prevent muscle damage and soreness, if the exercise is repeated.
DOMS is one variety of muscle damage caused by exercise but is typically nothing sinister; the other occurs during and immediately after exercise and this is ‘acute muscle soreness’.
What are the symptoms of DOMS?
Apart from short term loss of muscle strength, reduced range of motion and possible swelling of the muscles, the most significant symptom of DOMS is a dull muscular ache. Passive stretching increases the symptoms, which explains the feeling of stiffness.
What are the causes of DOMS?
The primary cause of DOMS is muscle strains or ‘Myofibril tears.’ Small scale damage results in an inflammatory response with intramuscular fluid and electrolyte shifts. Blood tests can confirm this micro-trauma though the detection of markers like ‘creatine kinase’ and ‘lactic dehydrogenase’.
Muscle strength, motions and functions are impaired in someone experiencing DOMS due to swelling, altered muscle firing patterns and pain.
How do I know if I have DOMS or an injury?
Innocent soreness (as in the case of DOMS) is a tender, tired or burning feeling, usually an achy, stiff or tight feeling, typically occurring bilaterally and has a delayed onset.
An injury on the other hand causes deep, sharp, stabbing pains, typically only on one side and starts less than a day after activity, if not during. These are the signs that there may be a more serious injury and one should not assume that it’s just DOMS. Additionally, an injury will typically last longer than just a few days. General soreness from DOMS should peak at 24 to 48 hours after activity and last only up to 3 days. If symptoms are not subsiding after that, something more serious is possible.
What is my best course of action?
DOMS responds well to light activity of a similar nature to that which cause it ...E.G. if you’re stiff from running, taking a leisurely walk should help. If symptoms linger beyond 3 days, or if any improvement seems negligible, schedule an appointment directly with your Physiotherapist, as you may be suffering DOMS or an injury. Try to remember what could have caused your pain and what it feels like, as this can help in your diagnosis. Contact us to ascertain the specifics of your condition and create an individualised plan to get you back on track with advice on how to avoid DOMS going forward.
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