DOMS – Post-workout soreness, how does it actually work?

Whether you are a beginner or a keen expert in the world of fitness and workout, you will surely be familiar with the widespread soreness and achiness felt in various muscle groups after physical activities.

This is called Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness (DOMS), it is a completely physiological response of the organism to physical activity and, consequently, you should never be scared of it!

DOMS is often perceived the day after the workout, and lasts from 24 to 72 hours. It is frequently accompanied by muscle stiffness and weakness, which, similarly, resolve in the same timeframe. The cause for DOMS is still debated, and many theories have been proposed throughout the years. The most accredited so far, describes DOMS as a consequence to micro-tears in the muscles following exercise, which then are repaired with more muscle fibers, leading to an increase in muscle strength and endurance.

What can you do to prevent it and ease it off?

To alleviate DOMS, many strategies are commonly adopted and recommended by personal trainers and physical therapists. Considering the diversity of each individual and the possible different responses to these interventions, we strongly recommend to adopt a mix of these measures in order to decrease the symptoms:

  • Prepare for your workout: integrate your physical activity sessions with a specific warm-up and cool-down routine. Time is a luxury these days, but dedicating 5-10 minutes before and after a workout to this routine, will make a massive difference. Light cardio exercise (5-10 minutes of fast walking or stationary bike) followed by dynamic stretching exercises specific to your type of workout will be enough to reduce DOMS.
  • Do not push beyond your limits: at any fitness levels, workout goals must be achieved gradually. Especially at the beginning of a new activity, or when increasing in intensity, we need to be aware of our limits and try not to go beyond them. Setting reasonable goals without exaggerating in workload, will not only decrease DOMS, but also the likelihood of incurring in serious injuries. While DOMS is innocuous, muscle strains and tears will interrupt physical activity for longer time, slowing down the progression and causing the opposite of the desired effect.
  • Have a warm or cold bath: with opposite mechanisms, both steaming hot and icy cold baths within 1 hour after activity, are likely to reduce DOMS. Warmth will relax your muscles, while cold will decrease inflammation and pain response; choose the most comfortable for you and dive in!
  • Have a correct diet: we are all different individuals, and so are our stomachs and guts. Consequently, no diet will be ideal and miraculous for everyone. Contact a nutritionist and get a diet tailored to you; this will help with DOMS and much more!
  • Rest does not mean inactivity: stay active even during your rest days. Activities such as walking, yoga, pilates, swimming and cycling help you to decrease DOMS and to prepare your body for the next workout, if done lightly and with appropriate techniques. Try to space out your rest days and to find a few weekly hours to practice these activities, and you will feel the benefits quicker than you can imagine.

How can osteopathy, physiotherapy and sports massage help?

Each of these interventions have a slightly different mechanism of helping with DOMS, but they all work nonetheless!

Osteopaths and Physiotherapists can help through the improvement of functional limitations, which can cause certain areas of the body to be overloaded during training sessions, making it more likely to have a more intense and longer-lasting DOMS response to the workout.

Furthermore, their guidance on appropriate exercise and workload progression can make your physical activity more tailored to your current fitness level. Besides helping with DOMS, this will also maximize your improvements and have an essential preventative effect for overuse and overload injuries.

Deep tissue and sports massage will also help considerably the symptoms, improving the flexibility and decreasing the irritability of the muscle groups which are more frequently prone to DOMS.

If you would like to find out more about post-workout pain and how physiotherapy, osteopathy and massage can help give us a call on 02077356813, our team of experts will be available to answer all you questions.


Written by Pietro Bini


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