Muscle Soreness & DOMS: Causes and How to Treat

Sore Muscles or DOMS is a Common Symptom. Learn How it is Caused, How to Treat & Prevent It

If you exercise or do any type of physical activity you have probably experienced muscle soreness. This painful experience is actually a benefit to you, but it can stop you from exercising or doing daily tasks. Luckily there are ways to prevent and treat this symptom.

What is Muscle Soreness?

It is slight to moderate pain in your muscles causing noticeable discomfort and often limiting range and mobility. In the most serious cases, muscle soreness cause intense pain and prevents you from doing simple, daily tasks like walking, lifting items or other upper and lower body movements.

The discomfort usually starts from 12 to 48 hours after strenuous activity. The pain typically subsides 2 to 3 days after it begins. Muscle soreness is not as severe as a muscle tear or joint injury but is often so painful you may have trouble getting up from a seated position or even getting out of bed.

What Causes Muscle Soreness?

There can be many causes of muscle soreness from over exertion, to exercising and using muscles you have not used in awhile, to moderate injury, but the most common is strenuous exercise. When you exercise or lift weights, your muscles actually tear. This tearing of the muscle fiber is normal, it is all a part of the process of building new muscle and getting in shape. When the muscle fiber tears down, your body repairs it and in the process makes it stronger. This is why you need to workout in order to build muscle.

What is DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)

DOMS, Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, is the soreness you feel 12 to 48 hours after a strenuous workout, or after heavily using muscles you have not used in awhile. This soreness can exist in your thighs after serious sets of squats, for instance, or in your biceps after doing more sets of curls than usual. It can often occur if you perform repetitive tasks utilizing muscles you rarely use. For instance, after house chores like pulling out and replacing drywall or flooring you can experience DOMS since you rarely use these muscles in your back, legs and arms.

What Causes DOMS?

When you work out, your muscles tear and break down as they are used. DOMS is caused by swelling that forms around these small tears in your muscle fibers. The more you use muscles, the more the muscle fiber tears and subsequently the more swelling that occurs. This makes the pain more severe and is why you are more sore after a more strenuous work out.  

The Reason for Muscle Soreness & DOMS

DOMS and muscle soreness are actually good for you. It’s all just part of the natural process our body goes through to build muscle and get in shape. When your muscles break down and tear during a workout, it tells you body you need muscle here. So, your body rebuilds those muscles making them bigger so it can perform the same tasks better and more efficiently next time.

So, if your arms and legs are sore after a good workout, it simply means you body is rebuilding muscle that has been broken down. This muscle will grow back stronger and be more efficient. So, the next time you workout like that your body won’t be as sore afterwards.

Relieving Muscle Soreness

While muscle soreness is good for you, its not very comfortable. Sometimes it can be downright debilitating and painful. What if you need to function properly the next day? You need some form of treatment to relieve the pain.

You can treat DOMS and regular muscle soreness naturally by stretching lightly and doing some very light activity to loosen up your muscles. You can also try heat therapy after a workout before muscle soreness occurs. NSAIDs and other pain relievers are options but they have mixed results on DOMS. Plus, it’s not always smart to rely on a medication or drug to relieve pain when there are safer, more natural methods of pain relief available that work just as well.

Ways to Treat Muscle Soreness

1. Stretch the muscles lightly, just far enough to feel no pain

2. Move and use your muscles under very light activity if the pain is bearable enough

3. Apply heat after the workout, or get into a hot bath. This will help loosen up the muscles.

4. After heat applications, use cold wraps to cool and soothe the muscles until they heal

5. Massage the areas that are experiencing pain

6. Use alternative pain relief like a topical ointment or a TENS unit

7. Continue to exercise to build muscle, this will prevent DOMs from occurring in the first place

8. Consume foods known to relieve stress like tart cherries, pineapple chunks, tumeric and even coffee (yes caffeine can help relieve muscle soreness)

How to Prevent Muscle Soreness & DOMS After a Workout

  1. Stretch before and after your workout. Stretch each muscle area you intend to work out
  2. Stay hydrated while working out
  3. Eat a high protein diet to help your body grow more muscle and prevent DOMS
  4. Create a healthier diet with nutrients to build muscle and enhance your stamina
  5. Start off slow when you begin a new workout routine or start a new exercise that works a new group of muscles and build up gradually to higher levels of intensity
  6. Continue to train and work out regularly so muscles stay in shape and do not atrophy

Using TENS / EMS Units to Treat Muscle Soreness & DOMS

A TENS EMS unit can help treat DOMS and muscle soreness. TENS can ease pain immediately so you can find relief temporarily. EMS can also help to stimulate your muscles, deeply massaging them. This deep massage can help to loosen your muscles and may help relieve the symptoms of muscle soreness and DOMS.

You should consult your doctor before using a TENS / EMS combination to treat any type of pain.

Always use these machines properly following the directions for electrode application and treatment.

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