What Works and Doesn’t Work for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

What Works and Doesn’t Work for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

(Last Updated On: September 13, 2020)

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

The soreness you get afterward is one of the least pleasant aspects of working out! Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. (DOMS) occurs when you work your muscles harder than they’re accustomed to. When you work your muscles more vigorously than usual or lift a heavier weight, the muscle fibers within the muscle develop micro-tears or microscopic tears. It can also occur when you increase the volume or intensity of your training. DOMS is also the bane of beginning exercisers since any stimulus they place on their muscles are unfamiliar and causes micro-tears in muscle fibers to form.

In response to the added stress place on your muscles, your immune system steps in to help repair the damage. In response, the muscles you worked become inflamed, sore, and swollen. You can feel the effects of delayed-onset muscle soreness when you move your body a day or two after an unaccustomed workout. You’re stiff and sore! DOMS usually appears 24 to 48 hours after a workout and lasts for up to 5 days. It doesn’t lead to lasting muscle damage, though. It’s something most athletes and guys and gals who train accept, but that doesn’t mean it’s comfortable.

Eccentric Contractions Are the Most Damaging

You’re more likely to experience DOMS if you do a workout that emphasizes eccentric muscle contractions, movements that contract the muscle while it lengthens. For example, the lowering phase of a biceps curl and running downhill or down a flight of stairs are eccentric movements. It’s these contractions that place the most stress on muscles and are most likely to lead to DOMS.

Because DOMS is an unpleasant sensation and makes it harder to work out for a few days, people are in search of ways to lessen its duration and severity. This article will cover which strategies for preventing and treating DOMS work and which don’t.

Strategies to Reduce Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Possible Benefits

Who doesn’t enjoy a relaxing muscle massage after a workout? It might be good medicine for DOMS too. There’s some evidence that massage may reduce the symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness and make the stiffness and pain more bearable. It’s not clear how massaging muscles provides relief, other than the fact that it helps you relax and focus less on your achy muscles.

One theory is that massage blocks immune cells that cause inflammation from reaching the site. Plus, a rubdown feels good and is a good distraction from the pain and stiffness of DOMS. One study found that massage lessened muscle soreness by 30% and reduced the swelling too. Plus, there are also few drawbacks or risks to massaging sore muscles.

Cryotherapy involves exposing muscles to cold, through cold baths, showers, or ice packs. Cold therapy is also effective for diminishing muscle swelling and pain due to muscle strains and ligament sprains. However, randomized- controlled trials fail to show a significant benefit of cryotherapy for lessening delayed-onset muscle soreness. Anecdotally, it is helpful for some people.

Another way to reduce muscle soreness and stiffness due to DOMS is to do light exercise. Low-intensity movement, like a slow walk outdoors, raises body temperature and reduces muscle stiffness. However, it’s best to keep exercise light if you’re stiff and sore. It’s not the best time to take a fast run or max out on strength training! Your muscles need a little TLC to recover quickly.

Nutrition may have modest benefits for DOMs too. One popular approach is to take a branched-chain amino acid supplement before exercise, which contains amino acids that aid in muscle repair. Bodybuilders are fond of branched-chain amino acid supplements because they support muscle growth and recovery. Can they reduce muscle soreness too? A meta-analysis of multiple studies found that taking a branched-chain amino acid supplement lowered markers of muscle damage and lessened muscle soreness by 9%.

There’s also some evidence that consuming food with anti-inflammatory properties before a workout may diminish DOMS. For example, antioxidant-rich foods, like tart cherry juice, turmeric, and foods high in omega-3s, like fatty fish, may reign in DOMS. At the very least, these are healthy foods that have other possible health benefits.

What Doesn’t Work for Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness

Some of the treatments for delayed-onset muscle soreness you hear about offer little or no benefit. An example is stretching. Static stretching helps temporarily lengthen stiff, sore, or tight muscles, but there’s little evidence that it prevents or shortens the duration of delayed-onset muscle soreness. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter when you stretch in relation to exercise. A search of the literature published by the Cochrane Database of Evidence-Based Medicine revealed that static stretching before or after exercise had no impact on delayed-onset muscle soreness. It’s okay to do it you enjoy it or it makes you feel better, but don’t count on it to alleviate your soreness.

Another popular therapy for DOMS is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. (NSAID), medications available with and without a prescription. The most popular medication in this class is ibuprofen. The anti-inflammatory effect these medications offer helps reduce soreness, inflammation, and stiffness. However, these medications have significant downsides. If you don’t drink enough fluids, these medications reduce blood flow to the kidneys and can affect kidney function. Plus, they raise blood pressure and increase the risk of bleeding from the digestive tract. Some studies also show that using them long-term increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.  Even though they relieve symptoms, they’re not the safest option.

One strategy that works in every instance, is time. Even if you do nothing, the discomfort of DOMS will lessen after 48 to 76 hours and disappear in 5 to 7 days. Fortunately, your body adapts after an episode of DOMS and you won’t get sore again unless you increase the intensity or volume of your workouts.



  • Pub Med. “Effects of Massage on Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness, Swelling, and Recovery of Muscle Function”.
  • Medicina Sportiva, 13: 61-66, 2009.
  • J Athl Train. Jul-Sep 2005;40(3):174-80.
  • Pub Med. “Effects of Massage on Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness”.
  • Harvard Health Publishing. “FDA strengthens warning that NSAIDs increase heart attack and stroke risk”
  • J Athl Train . 2004 Sep;39(3):278-279.
  • Examine.com. “Are BCAAs better than nothing?”
  • Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Jul 6;(7):CD004577. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004577.pub3.


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Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – Causes, Effects and Prevention

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