Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is the muscle pain and stiffness that can occur 24 to 72 hours after intense or unfamiliar physical activities.
The extent to which DOMS is experienced seems to vary from person to person. I have also found that my vulnerability to DOMS has increased over time. In my 20s it wasn't too often that I experienced it, but now any time I do a really intense workout or new exercise or activity I do. This may be due to age, or possibly due to the fact that I work out more intensely now than I used to since I have much less time to exercise and need to get more bang for my buck. Pretty much every Monday and Tuesday I'm in pain because of my intense strength training session I do on Sunday mornings at the JCC prior to my spinning class. As a matter of fact, as I write this, my upper back and biceps are screaming!
The problem with DOMS is that it can be uncomfortable enough to discourage people from attempting new activities, sticking with a new exercise regime, or exercising intensely enough to reap the full benefits of the activity. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent or minimize DOMS.
Here are some tips from Elizabeth Quinn, an exercise physiologist and fitness consultant for treating and avoiding DOMS:
Tips for Dealing with Muscle Soreness After Exercise
If you do find yourself sore after a tough workout or competition, try these methods to deal with your discomfort. Although not all are backed up with research, many athletes report success with some of the following methods.
•Use Active Recovery. This strategy does have support in the research. Performing easy low-impact aerobic exercise increasing blood flow and is linked with diminished muscle soreness. After an intense workout or competition, use this technique as a part of your cool down.
•Rest and Recover. If you simply wait it out, soreness will go away in 3 to 7 days with no special treatment.
•Try a Sports Massage. Some research has found that sports massage may help reduce reported muscle soreness and reduce swelling, although it had no effects on muscle function.
•Try an Ice Bath or Contrast Water Bath. Although no clear evidence proves they are effective, many pro athletes use them and claim they work to reduce soreness.
•Use R.I.C.E., the standard method of treating acute injuries, if your soreness is particularly painful.
•Perform Gentle Stretching. Although research doesn't find stretching alone reduces muscle pain of soreness, many people find it simply feels good.
•Try a Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory. Aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium may help to temporarily reduce the muscle soreness, although they won't actually speed healing. Be careful, however, if you plan to take them before exercise. Studies reported that taking ibuprofen before endurance exercise is not recommended.
•Try Yoga. There is growing support that performing Yoga may reduce DOMS.
•Listen to Your Body. Avoid any vigorous activity or exercise that increases pain.
•Allow the soreness to subside thoroughly before performing any vigorous exercise.
•Warm Up completely before your next exercise session. There is some research that supports that a warm-up performed immediately prior to unaccustomed eccentric exercise produces small reductions in delayed-onset muscle soreness (but cool-down performed after exercise does not).
•** If your pain persists longer than about 7 days or increases despite these measures, consult your physician.
•Learn something from the experience! Use prevention first.
Tips to Help Prevent Muscle Soreness After Exercise
While you may not be able to prevent muscle soreness entirely, you may reduce the intensity and duration of muscles soreness if you follow a few exercise recommendations.
•Progress Slowly. The most important prevention method is to gradually increase your exercise time and intensity. See the 10 percent rule if you need some exercise progression guidelines.
•Warm Up thoroughly before activity and cool down completely afterward.
•Cool Down with gentle stretching after exercise.
•Follow the Ten Percent Rule. When beginning a new activity start gradually and build up your time and intensity no more than ten percent per week.
•Know the 10 Tips for Safe Workouts.
•Follow the Spring Training Fitness Tips.
•Hire a Personal Trainer if you aren't sure how to start a workout program that is safe and effective.
•Start a new weight lifting routine with light weights and high reps (10-12) and gradually increase the amount you lift over several weeks.
•Avoid making sudden major changes in the type of exercise you do.
•Avoid making sudden major changes in the amount of time that you exercise.
Certain muscle pain or soreness can be a sign of a serious injury. If your muscle soreness does not get better within a week consult your physician.
[mrw.interscience.wiley.com/cochrane/clsysrev/articles/CD004577/frame.html]Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise, RD Herbert, M de Noronha, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 4, 2007, The Cochrane Collaboration.
Herbert, R., Gabriel, M. [http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/abridged/325/7362/468?eaf]BMJ 2002;325:468-470. Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review
Szymanski, D. (2003). Recommendations for the avoidance of delayed-onset muscle soreness. Strength and Conditioning Journal 23(4): 7–13.