So you have a grueling workout but feel great afterwards. The following day, however, your muscles are screaming. The feeling gets even worse the day after. How can the pain get worse over a 2-3 day period, and what is causing this?
This is particularly poignant to me, coming into a new 10-week routine means a whole new set of leg exercises on day one of my workout week. Two days later and my quads are screaming at me – but its a good pain and its the sign of good things happening.
There are a few kinds of pain that can be experienced due to exercise.
- The immediate muscle soreness or fatigue that occurs during exercise, often tailing away quickly after the exercise session is complete.
- Acute and sudden pain due to an injury such as a muscle strain and sprain, often accompanied by swelling and bruising.
- A delayed and consistent soreness occurring around 1-3 days after either beginning a new exercise program or with unusual exertion.
The latter is what I am talking about here and is quite normal. For a beginner working out it can be annoying, and for someone that works out regularly it can be an old friend. The technical term for this delayed pain is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS for short.
Cause of DOMS?
While the cause is not completely known it is most likely due to the microscopic tearing of the muscle fibers. This tearing is something that is wanted when aiming for muscle growth or toning – it is the micro-tearing that triggers the muscle fibers to grow as they heal.
The effect of DOMS is always temporary and can easily be ignored without treatment. I am accustomed to this unique kind of pain and in some ways relish it. The pain can be alleviated by helping get blood flowing through the area – usually by performing low impact exercise on the affected muscle group(s). This is my favorite technique and pushing past the initial pain to get the blood flowing really helps reduce the level of pain.
Taking aspirin or ibuprofen (both have anti-inflammatory properties) can help, as can gentle massage.
Warming up adequately prior to an exercise routine can also reduce the incidence of DOMS, as can familiarity with the exercise or action causing DOMS in the first place.