Participating in an intense physical activity will wear you out, but sometimes you won’t feel the muscle soreness until a few days later. Why do your muscles feel fine and then suddenly become sore after a workout? It’s called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and it’s often a good thing.
A common part of working out, DOMS may happen when you start a new exercise program and use muscles you “didn’t even know you had.” The condition may occur any time you dive into an intense, new exercise routine. When you feel pain a few days after exercising it’s your body repairing itself.
To get more technical, the muscle inflammation your workout causes results in something called inflammatory response cascade, which is a fancy way of saying your body is healing itself after a workout. The reason it takes two days for the pain to appear is because that’s the peak of your body’s healing process when cellular activity in your muscles is at its highest.
Most people who experience DOMS deal with sore muscles, but there are some other symptoms that you may experience. Those symptoms include muscles that feel weaker, stiff joints, less range of motion, and swelling and tenderness of the affected areas.
One of the common misconceptions about DOMS is that the buildup of lactic acid right after an intense workout is to blame for the soreness a few days later. Doctors and researchers suggest that lactic acid isn’t to blame and that it’s a widespread misconception about DOMS.
While failing to clear lactic acid after a workout may cause some immediate discomfort and may even impact the performance of a future workout, most doctors agree that lactic acid isn’t what makes us sore after a brutal workout. Engaging in a particularly intense or difficult workout is what leads to DOMS, not lactic acid buildup.
The phrase “no pain, no gain” is incredibly appropriate when it’s applied to working out and gaining muscle. The reason your body feels painful after an intense workout is because it’s making changes in your muscles to make sure you’re better prepared to handle the workout the next time you exercise.
However, it’s essential to remember that you don’t need to end every workout with soreness and an eventual case of DOMS. You’ll never sustain a workout regimen if you’re so sore you can barely roll out of bed the next day. In fact, if your sore muscles prevent you from repeating the workout around three or four days later, you’ve probably pushed your body too hard.
For a long time, experts believe stretching before and after a workout would reduce the likelihood of DOMS, but recent investigations have shown that stretching doesn’t reduce your chance of injury. In fact, some scientists suggest that stretching too much could reduce the strength you have for a workout.
If your finances allow, a massage is one of the best ways to reduce post-workout soreness. Some sports medicine doctors also recommend Epsom salt baths, extra sleep, and showers that alternate between hot and cold water. Also, boosting protein intake may also accelerate the rate your muscles heal.
Delayed onset muscle soreness is something you may experience with long-term dedication to a tough exercise program. If you’re truly building muscle, you can’t avoid the occasional bout of DOMS, but it’s not something you should experience every day. Balance your workouts to build muscle as well as endurance, and always let your body heal.