What is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

Two kinds of pains can be broadly identified after physical activities or work outs. One is which occurs immediately after the activity. And the other is that appears hours after. The latter, which  appears later is referred to as DOMS.

Immediate Pain

It is common to feel crampy legs immediately after running or walking long distances. This is, both, common and normal. The reason is accumulation of lactic acid in the muscle tissue that has undergone a considerable period of activity.

When we use up a muscle/e or a group of muscles, the muscle cells use up glucose in the presence of oxygen to constantly produce energy.

During a run, the rate of energy production, and hence, the oxidation of glucose in the muscle has to be hastened to meet the energy requirement.

Therefore, the tissue respires anaerobically, that is, without using oxygen to meet the energy requirements.

Anaerobic respiration produces a by product called lactic acid. So, during long runs or intensive short sprints, lactic acid gets accumulated in the muscles being used. As a result, you feel intense pain after such activities,.

Lactic acid is washed away from the site within 20 to 30 minutes .So, within this time period, your pain is likely to fade away.

Remember, lactic acid is an irritant. It may damage the muscle tissue if it stays for long. So, if you feel pain, relax for some time, and give your body a chance to wash off this irritant and make your muscle ready for the next bout of activities.

This pain occurs immediately after the activity and disappears after 20 to 30 minutes. However, an ache may stay in the affected muscle group for a few hours.

DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

Muscle aches or soreness appearing 4 to 5 hours (or even more) after an activity may be grouped under DOMS. This soreness is typical intense and severe enough to not let you sleep.

As an example, if you go for a long run. Come back home and feel alright. Hours pass by, and you’re alright. Then, when you go to bed that night, all of a sudden you feel an intense pain in your calf muscles. The pain is quite disturbing, it may be dull or sharp, but enough to not let you sleep that night.

This is DMOS.

Cause of DOMS

DOMS has nothing to do with lactic acid accumulation. The cause of delayed onset muscle soreness is actual injury to the muscle fibers.

Strenuous work outs, run or even walk may lead to micro injuries, sort of tiny wear and tears, in the muscle fibers of the muscle group involved. These injuries provoke inflammation and give you pain. Setting up an inflammatory response may take some time, hence the delay in onset.

Since they are actual injuries, pain is intense and needs to be taken care of.


  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Limitation of movement

Managing Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

Do not ignore DMOS. Those injured muscle fibers need care to facilitate recovery.

  • Take rest. Avoid over using the affected muscle group. However, light movements are permitted. They may actually be helpful, as movements improve the blood supply of the area and hence help in healing.
  • To suppress inflammation, you may put heat or ice pack over the area. This may alleviate your pain.
  • Over the counter anti inflammatory pill may be used.
  • Light massage of the area or stretching may help. Both these steps would improve the blood flow.
  • Give it time, do not hurry with the next bout of exercises. However, if your work out involves some other group of muscles apart from the affected one, you may do it.

Preventing DOMS

Repeated injuries to those muscle fibers is not desirable. Therefore, it is a good practice not to over do activities and prevent DOMS.

Steps to be taken

  • Before indulging into the main activity, a little warm up helps. Light stretching exercises with little movements of all limbs warm up the muscles, stretching them adequately to take up the activity stress.
  • Increase your activities gradually. If you plan to run, let it be a 15 minutes run the first day, 20 minutes the second and increase the time gradually.
  • Do not run or work out if you are already in pain. Pain is a definite signal that you are injured and need rest.
  • Wear proper shoes while on activities.

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