Anyone who has ever put a morsel of effort above and beyond their normal exertion level has experienced the post-exercise *joy* of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Depending of what your workout included, soreness usually affects the big movers:

  • gluteus maximus (your bottom)
  • quadriceps or sartorious (your thighs)
  • latissimus dorsi (your back)

That said, no muscles are off limits. Calves, abs, biceps and triceps – as well as the muscles “you never knew you had” could be crying a day or after a workout that uses muscles your body hasn’t worked to that intensity or duration in a while.

You Know You Have DOMS if…

  • You start walking down the stairs, holding onto the railing, as if you’re 90 years old.
  • You have a hard time sitting down to do anything. Heaven forbid when you have to use the bathroom!
  • Whether you’re a man or woman, you stand from a seated position in the manner of a full-term pregnant woman.
  • You wince every time you laugh because your abs are killing you.
  • If someone comes close to you and looks like they might actually make contact with your [insert body part here], you immediately stop them in their tracks.
  • Even though you hurt, deep down you’re happy because you feel like you’ve worked out.

What Causes DOMS?

There are a couple theories that suggest microscopic tears of the muscle fiber or a build-up of lactic acid within the muscle cause DOMS.

Microscopic Tears – Teeny tiny tears in the muscle fiber.
The amount and degree of tearing depends of how intense your worked out. Typically these tears manage to heal themselves within a few days and are generally not a big concern. Warming up before a workout, bringing a greater blood supply to the muscles, has been thought to reduce the severity of tearing. This is the most likely culprit of DOMS.

Lactic Acid – That burning feeling you get in the muscles as you’re working out.
One school of thought believed that an accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles produced by exercise contributed to DOMS. Several studies have proven otherwise. Lactic acid levels in the blood actually return back to normal within 30 – 60 minutes after a workout. This essentially gets lactic acid off the hook.

Exercises that Trigger DOMS

Anything can cause DOMS. Running a few miles, doing a set of heavy squats or lifting a really heavy bag of groceries is all it takes. You could be super fit, or brand new to working out – DOMS does not discriminate.

What to Do When You Have DOMS?

Don’t stop working out. If an “easy day” of exercise is required, go that route, but don’t forgo working out because of DOMS. Many people find that the soreness they feel diminishes slightly after the muscles have warmed up again. Additional exercise could actually help you feel better, and loosen things up.

Take time to stretch. Feeling stiff after a workout is normal – with or without DOMS. After a 10-minute, stretch the areas of the body that feel sore.

Typically DOMS goes away in a few days, and could last as long as a week. That said, if you feel something is unusually sore, swollen or well beyond anything that could be the result of exercise, seek the advice of a medical professional.