DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, can arise from the body performing more strenuous tasks than it is used to doing, and often results in muscles aching and feeling stiff. After particularly vigorous exercise, you may feel less nimble than a brick wall.
It’s thought to be caused by micro tears in the muscle when the body is pushed beyond its normal exertion level, or by using muscles in a way they’re not used to being used (i.e. if you start a new sport).
DOMS typically takes 12-48 hours to set in after exercise, and should only last a few days.
This is different from acute soreness, which occurs during the exercise itself and is typically a result of poor form, overloading the muscles etc.
DOMS can be treated by encouraging blood flow through the muscles, which can be done in a number of ways:
Active recovery – this is gentle exercise that warms the muscles and gets blood flowing, but does not place stress on the body; walking, a gentle bike ride or yoga
Alternating heat and ice to the affected area(s) – pro athletes switch between hot and cold baths and while there is no scientific support for this method, they continue this practice
Alternatively, giving the muscles time will heal them however the methods above do support a faster recovery period.
Where DOMS occurs when the body is exerting greater force on the muscles than they are used to, DOMS can be prevented by steadily escalating the intensity placed on the body – by warming up. Increasing your heart rate gets more blood to your muscles so they become more supple and less likely to tear.
Cooling down after a workout is also a key part of preventing DOMS. Light aerobic work and stretching both help to excrete the waste products that build up during exercise as they aid circulation and flush out those toxins.
When undertaking new activities, or increasing the exertion you’ll be subjecting your body to, you should do “little and often” so your muscles can adapt to the new strains. Build yourself up to each challenge gradually and allow your body time to restout