These are the reasons you may feel unable to move after a hard workout.
You know the feeling: Two days ago, you rocked that leg workout, and now it hurts to get up off the couch, climb up and down the stairs, and, well, do pretty much anything.
This soreness is technically known as delayed onset muscle pain (or DOMS), and it’s equally frustrating and rewarding. You feel self-assured because you have worked hard on your body. However, on the other hand, you worry about your ability to walk again.
Even though DOMS struggles are quite common, the cause of the soreness remains a mystery. What makes your muscles feel sore? Is DOMS truly a sign of a solid workout or something you should try to avoid? How can you alleviate the discomfort?
This expert information will help you understand delayed onset muscle pain. This might inspire you to move those rusty-feeling legs. Yes.
What is delayed onset soreness in the muscles?
DOMs (or delayed onset muscle pain) refer to muscle soreness that you feel anywhere from a few hours up to a few weeks after exercise. Robert Andrews, PT DPT, a physical therapist at Hospital for Special Surgery, tells Health. The achiness usually appears 24 hours after you sweat, peaking 48 hours later. However, it can last up to 72 hours.
A normal walk around the block does not cause this pain. Andrews says that a harder workout usually causes this or using more resistance (such as heavier weights or thicker resistance bands) than your body is used to.
Although it may seem like all soreness falls under the DOMS umbrella, this is not the case. Andrews says that you can experience more soreness immediately after a workout. This is known as acute muscle soreness. The truth is that the acute sensation could be due to muscle fatigue, which is a different cause than delayed onset muscle soreness.
What causes delayed-onset muscle soreness
So what’s the deal with that horrible DOMS? Experts are still trying to answer that question.
Grayson Wickham, PT, DPT, and CSCS, the founder of Movement Vault’s mobility and flexibility platform, says that delayed onset muscle soreness is still not fully understood. Many theories explain DOMS. These include muscle damage, connective tissue damage, and muscle spasms. However, the consensus is currently leaning towards a combination of all three. This could also include microscopic damage to muscles cells.
This is a technical way to say that experts believe exercise causes tiny trauma to our muscles. You will feel more soreness as your muscles recover from the intense exercise.
FYI: If you have heard “lactic acid” as the villain behind DOMS, it has now been proven false. Andrews says that lactic acid is something your muscles produce. It’s a waste product of your body’s conversion of carbs into exercise fuel. However, it gets eliminated within hours, so it shouldn’t be a problem if you feel sore the next morning.
Once you’ve heard all that, here’s something else: Micro-trauma can cause your muscles to work at an unaccustomed level. You may find it difficult to get up from the toilet the next morning.
Wickham says that this is often the case when someone takes a break from exercising or starts working out first. Talk about a welcoming team! You can also experience delayed onset muscle soreness by increasing the intensity [numbers of sets] or load [weight] during a workout. He says that even if you are super fit, increasing the intensity, volume [number of sets], or load [weight] of a workout can cause you to feel sluggish later.
Another notorious culprit: Eccentric exercise. Wickham explains that an eccentric contraction is when you contract a muscle and lengthen it. An eccentric exercise is a squat in which you lower very slowly and then get back up at your usual pace. These movements are more damaging to your muscles than other moves so that they can be killer DOMS.
What are the signs of delayed onset muscle pain?
Andrews says that DOMS can cause a severe aching sensation in the muscles. The aching can also be worsened if you try to stretch your muscles or flex them.
The delayed onset of muscle soreness affects the entire muscle. If you feel sharp, shooting pain at one point, you likely have an injury. Andrews adds, “The majority of delayed onset muscle soreness is not a micro-trauma.” If this is the case, contact your doctor or physical therapist.
Do you consider DOMS to be a sign of a good workout?
It’s not hard to see how serious muscle soreness can affect your ability to exercise. But it should not be something you strive for.
It doesn’t mean that you have to be sore for a workout to be effective. Wickham says that improving fitness takes time. You won’t be able to train effectively long-term if you treat every workout as a marathon.
Andrews says that if your body is so sore after a workout, it could be causing excessive muscle damage. He says that a gradual, progressive exercise that challenges your body causes mild to mild-to-moderate soreness is better.
Wickham says that you shouldn’t be alarmed if your body adjusts to new stress levels if you are starting to get into the gym or returning to it. It should decrease as you get stronger and fitter.
Andrews says that just because you don’t feel sore doesn’t mean your body won’t get stronger. “Soreness that interferes with your daily life should not be the goal.”
How do you treat delayed-onset muscle soreness?
If you’re suffering from DOMS, there aren’t any quick fixes. However, there are some things you can do to help temporarily.
Wickham suggests that gentle movements such as stretching and light cardio can be helpful. To help your body heal, you can spend a few hours a day in the sauna, take a warm shower every morning, and foam roll sore muscles.
Do you have to use DOMS for exercise?
Here’s the short answer: Yes. Wickham says that you can exercise with delayed-onset muscle soreness. By bringing nutrients to be sore and damaged muscles, increasing blood flow can be a great way to increase your activity.
He adds that DOMS is a severe condition and should be treated immediately. Andrews concurs: “If your soreness is this severe, it’s likely that you caused significant trauma to the muscle. You should allow it to heal and recover.”
It’s normal to feel uncomfortable initially, even if your movements are light. Andrews says that you will feel less soreness as you warm up and activate your muscles. You’re fine as long as you don’t feel any pain.
What can you do to prevent it from happening again? (And should it be?
Although DOMS can be normal (and not a problem), it is still a common condition. Andrews says that DOMS shouldn’t be a constant part of your exercise routine or life. To minimize suffering, you can gradually increase the intensity of your workouts so your body has an opportunity to adapt but not be completely drained.
Wickham says, “Knowing your fitness level and what your capabilities are–and aligning this with your workout program.” If you’ve never done eccentric exercises, for example, incorporate one set into one of your exercises instead of jumping straight into an all-eccentric-focused sweat.
Do you think there is a case where DOMS should be treated?
Although delayed onset muscle soreness can be painful, Andrews and Wickham agree that it is not something to be concerned about. You can only ease the aching muscles and wait for them to heal.
However, in some rare cases, people mistake a severe and dangerous condition called rhabdomyolysis as DOMS. Andrews explains that Rhabdo can cause significant damage to the muscle fibers and even death. This can lead to serious complications such as kidney failure.
You must push your body to the extreme to trigger this condition. However, if you feel severe muscle soreness, pain, dark urine, or swelling, you should immediately call your doctor. Experts stress that rhabdomyolysis can occur in a small percentage of people. However, don’t panic – if you experience severe muscle soreness and pain, along with dark, soda-colored urine or swelling, call your doctor immediately.