There’s nothing better than the feeling you get after a hard workout, but when you don’t feel sore the day after, you might feel like you didn’t get the hardcore pump you thought you did. Just wait! As the day goes on, muscle soreness will creep up and you’ll feel as if you’ve moved mountains. The reason: delayed onset muscle soreness or what is better known as DOMS. 

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What is DOMS?

There was the belief that delayed onset muscle soreness results from a buildup of lactic acid or metabolic waste. That theory has since been dismissed. Delayed muscle soreness happens when there are small tears in connective tissue followed by inflammation to the muscle fibers. These tears happen during the eccentric (lengthening) part of the movement.  For example, running down hill or during the lengthening part of a bicep curl.  

Everyone can fall victim to DOMS, from the newbie who’s just starting out to the seasoned bodybuilder. The only real difference is that a bodybuilder may not experience the same severity as a first timer. The reason: seasoned athlete’s muscles are more accustomed to the workload put on it.  

Delayed soreness is usually present 24-48 hours after the muscles have been exercised. This is because the muscles are stressed more than what they’re used too. This can also be a sign that the muscles are getting stronger or are growing (hypertrophy). You should notice the pain disappearing in about two to three days after the initial workout. Now, if you find that the pain is not disappearing or letting up, this could be a sign that something more serious may be wrong. Always listen to your body and never push a muscle if the movement is painful.

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Other DOMS Symptoms

Soreness is one symptom you may experience, but you may also notice that the muscle feels swollen or tender to the touch. Stretching the muscle or moving it through a full range of motion may also feel uncomfortable. All of these symptoms are normal. Once the pain starts to subside, you may want to start working them again. The more you build up strength, the less you should experience these symptoms. 

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How To Alleviate Muscle Soreness

1. Stretch before and after your workouts

This includes warming up on a cardio machine for 3-5 minutes to get circulation going. 

2. Foam rolling of self-myofascial release

Use the foam roller both before and after your workout. During muscle soreness, the fascia (muscle fibers) get knotted up or stuck together. The foam roller will help smooth out the fibers and get the blood flowing to the muscles. The oxygenated blood will help muscles to recover faster. Start rolling slowly if you’re extremely sore and then increase the movements as you feel comfortable.

3. Ice and heat

Ice will work best to help shrink inflamed connective tissue. You may find also that ice will cut your healing time in half. While heat can be used to relax the muscles, keep in mind that it will cause the muscles to expand.

4. Anti-inflammatory medicines

Advil or Motrin can help reduce pain and swelling. If your pain is severe and it’s inhibiting daily activities, something more may be wrong and anti-inflammatory meds might not help.

5. Keep moving

The worst thing you can do is to remain sedentary when sore. Take a walk or do some cardiovascular exercises. This will get the blood circulating, bringing oxygen to the muscles to help loosen up and repair the torn tissues.  

6. Don’t skip the gym

If your legs are experiencing DOMS, don’t opt out of the gym.  Warm up to get your juices flowing and then train a muscle group that feels unaffected until you have recovered. Then you can start all over again.

7. Practice good form

Always perform every movement with proper form. Incorrect form can cause muscle or joint damage. Permanent damage will only keep you out of the gym. Research movements or ask a trainer at your gym to demonstrate for you.