DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness for fitness buffs and gym junkies is possibly the most delicious ache ever! Indeed it’s one we wear with great pride, almost like a badge of honor and brag about to our peers. Just last week I sat in my corporate office and was telling my colleague how sneezing and deep breaths were excruciating. The awestruck sympathy you receive is incredible validation – “definitely ‘beasting’ it out in my ab workouts.”
But whilst I was elaborating and detailing the pain of DOMS I suddenly realized that the person in front of me seemed to think I was injured and was plainly horrified that after just a day of rest I was going to hit training hard the next day. For you Mr. L.G and for all the rest who don’t know how to differentiate between DOMS and other gym-related aches and pains … this #Fit5 is for you!
1) It has many signs & symptoms – A ‘syndrome’ is a collection of signs and symptoms and differs from a disease in that there is not just one aspect that produces an abnormal result. A syndrome is quite ‘loopy’ in that several things may be going on at the same time. To explain with logic, cause A may produce result B but it may also give rise to situation C that in turn will produce result D. In a syndrome, there may be only one sign/symptom or there may be more than one or there may be all the documented signs and symptoms that present. This is seen in DOMS. DOMS, sometimes referred to as muscle fever, has several characteristic features. Pain, muscle stiffness, localized tenderness, swelling and decrease in muscle strength are most commonly experienced.
2) It’s NOT because of Lactic Acid! – The muscle soreness occurs because the eccentric/unfamiliar exercise causes microtrauma to the muscles fibres. Previously, it was thought that DOMS resulted due to a build up of lactic acid during exercise. This theory has now been completely debunked as evidence shows that the lactic acid is clearly within 30-60 minutes after exercise and so cannot be causal of DOMS. The minute mechanical damage that occurs to the muscle fibres results in calcium being accumulated in the damaged muscles. This calcium degenerates muscle protein, which in turn causes muscle inflammation and swelling. Whilst the inflammatory response is necessary and useful for muscle repair and recovery, it is what sensitizes the nerves in the muscle and this is why one experiences pain/soreness/stiffness.
3) Don’t be afraid of it – DOMS is actually a protective mechanism for the body. What happens through the trauma to the muscles is that the muscle(s) is forced to recover, repair and adapt rapidly to the kind of stress it experienced. It then evolves into a stronger form of itself to offer protection so that the next time it is placed under the same stress, it is well-equipped and more than able to take on the tension head-on. The phenomenon is termed “repeated-bout effect” and the protection offered can be for several weeks after the exercise.
4) Distinguish DOMS from injury – DOMS does not occur immediately after the eccentric exercise. The muscle soreness takes anywhere from 24 to 72 hours to develop post workout. Pain experienced soon after a workout is NOT DOMS and should be investigated and managed appropriately (usually is musculoskeletal injury). DOMS subsides and disappears usually within 5-7 days after the workout. DOMS pain is unique in that further activity of the sore muscles helps alleviate the soreness after some initial pain. DOMS is also unique in that this continued use of the pained muscles does not hamper its recovery nor worsens the muscle damage. It is easy to distinguish DOMS from muscle injury, which usually occurs at the very instant that the muscle receives trauma. Any pain or swelling that occurs during the exercise at the instant of contraction is not DOMS and must be viewed with an index of suspicion. Another way to differentiate between DOMS and muscle soreness from injury is that at rest, DOMS doesn’t produce pain whilst an injured muscle will ache/throb even at rest.
5) DOMS obsess – Finally, don’t get obsessed with DOMS (I know I did when I was struck by the fitness fad). I found myself trying to push myself till I was battered, bruised, crippled and crushed (BBCC) after a workout. DON’T! If you are indeed BBCC then you’ve pushed too hard and chances are you’re injured. Ease yourself slow and steady into a new exercise. Going hardcore on day 1 will achieve nothing and do more harm than good.
DOMS is not a measure of how good your workout has been. With time your muscles will adapt and get stronger and repetition of the exercise won’t cause DOMS. This is why it is important to mix-up your workouts and trick your body time and again. Do not let it get used to any one activity. A good workout and a good fitness regime is where you constantly challenge your muscles and your body through different means and where at the end of the hour you are well and truly sweaty.
Juggling many roles from physician to writer to pilates instructor to Marketing-PR executive, Dr. Daamini is constantly pushed and inspired to get creative on how to encompass a Retreat into her daily life.