Written by Caitlin Evans.
You are here because you want to be fit, but you have probably learned that the path toward physical fitness includes pain and effort. Let’s face it, if working out properly was easy, everyone would do it. But the very fact that you are reading this article means that you want to understand why the pain is happening and how to deal with it without giving up on your training. Good for you! Together we will go through the journey from the origin of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and its symptoms to ways to cope with it while still continuing with your workout routine.
What is DOMS?
Delayed onset muscle soreness or muscle fever is the weakness and muscle pain which begins up to a day after an exercise you are not familiar with, peaking up to two days later. It is particularly prevalent if that exercise has an eccentric component. Eccentric exercise is an activity where the muscles are contracting and lengthening at the same time, such as long distance running, downhill running, landing drills, and top down exercises (e.g. lowering yourself down slowly from a pull up).
Because it peaks a day or two after an unfamiliar exercise, the condition has the “delayed onset” description in its name. Sometimes, DOMS can cause such a severe pain that people can mistake it for muscle strain, which unlike DOMS, is an actual injury.
What causes the muscle fever?
It is simple: the harder you train, the more fatigued you’ll get. But not all workouts can lead to DOMS. Generally, more difficult sets with higher training volume can produce more soreness, while intensive cardio workouts with shorter rests result in less soreness.
However, DOMS is not a regular fatigue, and it does not come from training hard. It is caused by eccentric contractions – the lowering of the weight, and inexperience in a specific exercise.
You are less likely to experience muscle fever as you become more advanced and keep doing the same workout for some time.
It is also believed that genetics can be a factor, because the sensitivity to the effect of DOMS, and the intensity of soreness, vary significantly from one person to the next.
Muscle soreness can be intensified by other stresses. For example, if you are dehydrated DOMS becomes worse.
In fact, muscle fever can be triggered by nearly any substantial metabolic or metabolic stress, such as a strong massage or fear of the pain.
What are the symptoms of DOMS?
Because DOMS is often mistaken with a muscle strain, it is vital to know how to recognize symptoms of muscle fever.
Since it is caused by a light muscle damage – microtrauma, small tears, and muscle breakdown that happens shortly after training, you can experience soreness and pain that range from mild to severe pain that nearly debilitates you and prevents you from getting out of bed.
On the other hand, muscle strain includes more tangible symptoms like bruising, swelling, and inability to move the muscle.
Should you workout with DOMS?
There are some misconceptions about working out with DOMS, especially from people who view micro-injuries of the muscles as a good way to upgrade your fitness.
With mild soreness, it is OK to get back out there, but when it comes to severe muscle fever you should take a break from intense workouts. Here’s why:
- If your muscles are sore, they are recovering from microtears, and regardless of the part “micro”, they need some time to be ready for a new challenge. By working out despite DOMS, you are prolonging the fever.
- Continuing with intense workouts during delayed onset muscles soreness can weaken the secretion of some crucial hormones (e.g., growth), which is a key factor for performance and recovery.
- While it is not very likely, insisting on intensive exercising while you are experiencing DOMS can lead to long-term muscle damage.
You can, however, opt for a low-intensity training just to maintain your shape until your muscles recover and promote blood flow. Damaged muscles will need to be recovered and the best way to do this is to promote new and replenished fuel for the muscle tissue.
How to cope with DOMS?
The most important question to answer is how to go through a couple of days of delayed onset muscle soreness without forgetting the idea of ever working out again?
Since it is still unclear what precisely causes DOMS, it is very difficult to determine how to treat it effectively.
Almost nothing trainees have tried so far is impressive, but there are some helpful methods and assets that can alleviate the pain and fasten the recovery.
For example, taking a plant-based natural muscle relaxer which supports sore muscles and muscle spasms can diminish the tension and make movements of the sore muscles easier and less painful. Some of the stress relieving plants and ingredients to look for are valerian root, passion flower, chamomile, calcium, and magnesium.
Some studies showed that pulsed ultrasound and deep heat can prevent and ease the pain in the muscles, to a certain point, because they are decreasing the intramuscular pressure and inflammatory response.
For an instant relief, you can take ibuprofen and similar anti-inflammatory drugs but think of them as a band-aid that will cover only one-third of the “wound”. They will not make the muscles recover faster, only treat the pain for a short time. This is suggested only in rare occasions where the pain in unbearable and not to be taken willy nilly.
Hot tubbing or warm underwater jet massage might be the most promising technique to treat delayed onset muscle soreness, as it is suggested in one European study. A similar research included wearing a heat wrap for a few hours, and the results were surprisingly positive.
Among the plentitude of suggested treatments presumed to be effective, you will hear about massages, compression garments, icing, and Epsom salt. Most of them are just assumptions, and some (e.g., icing) even harmful.
We are yet to learn about the benefits of fish oil and curcuma.
If you have found a remedy that you feel helps with the perception of pain, then by all means continue this.
So, to cut a long story short: if you are experiencing severe DOMS, give your muscles time to heal and recover before you get back to intense training. You can also try to minimize the chance of muscle fever by avoiding switching up your exercises too frequently and staying consistent with a particular modality. The most important tip you can get is: Don’t let DOMS discourage you from following your dream of physical fitness!