ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) Causes and Theories

Updated on March 17, 2014
CyclingFitness profile image

Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. He is also a keen cyclist as well as being a lover of the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District.

Have you ever experienced muscle soreness post exercise?

Have you ever experienced DOMS?

See results

Muscle soreness from exercise

Many exercisers have experienced temporary muscle soreness and stiffness, as well as muscle aches and pain following unaccustomed strenuous exercise which has left a feeling of weakness and discomfort in their muscles and joints.

Residual delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) may occur from between 24 hours to 48 hours pending unaccustomed exercise. While it can be an alarming sensation to newcomers to exercise it is a sign that your muscles are adapting to the physical stresses of training.

Eccentric Muscle Contractions leading to Muscle Soreness

It has been found that intensity and duration of physical effort is proportionate to the level of discomfort felt. The most important factor is the type of exercise performed.

High force and high tension eccentric muscle actions produce the greatest level of post-exercise muscle damage.

Eccentric contractions are characterised by active resistance of muscle lengthening.

Exercise Can Lead To Muscle Pain The Following Day

Hard exercise can lead to muscular pain the following day. This is known as DOMS- Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
Hard exercise can lead to muscular pain the following day. This is known as DOMS- Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness | Source

DOMS Sequence of soreness from working out

The sequence of events leading to delayed onset muscle soreness

1. The body performs exercise which it is not accustomed to which involves eccentric muscle contractions.

2. Damage caused to muscle contractile proteins.

3. Metabolite Accumulation as a result of increased muscle cell damage.

4. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) from inflammation leads to post exercise soreness, tenderness and pain.

5. Inflammation prompts the adaptive processes of the body to commence.

Physiological causes of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

It is believed that any one of the below physical factors may cause DOMS and muscle soreness after workouts

  1. Minuscule tears to mucle tissue damage cells which are responsible for the release of chemical substances that stimulate free nerve endings. Examples of these chemical substances are Histamines, anaerobic metabolites and proteolytic enzymes.
  2. Osmotic pressure causing swelling of surrounding tissues (fluid retention).
  3. Cramps or muscle spasms which are sudden involuntary muscle contractions.
  4. Alterations in cell's calcium regulation mechanisms.
  5. Inflammatory responses which lead to increased white blood cell count, interleukin-1 beta, as well as monocyte and accumulation of leucocytes.

McArdle, W.D., Katch, F.I. and Katch, V.L. Essentials of Exercise Physiology. 2nd Ed., Baltimore., Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2000.

Eccentric Muscle Actions cause Muscle Soreness

Mucle Soreness is exaggerated by eccentric muscle actions.
Mucle Soreness is exaggerated by eccentric muscle actions.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness Theories

There have previously been a number of theories put forward to explain DOMS which include

Spasm Theory

In Spasm Theory it was noted that static stretching of muscles reduced the level of post workout muscle soreness however despite an effect on the level of post workout soreness the effect of DOMS remained.

Tear Theory

By proposing that minute damage including tears and ruptures of muscle fibres as a result of the structural changes to the muscle fibres bought about by eccentric muscle contractions. The minuscule damage stimulates flow of white blood cells to the area of damage in response to actute inflammation and leads to the release of histamines and prostaglandins which are responsible for activitation of pain receptors. This forms the basis of Hough's Torn Tissue Hypothesis.

Excess Metabolite Theory

This proposes that metabolite accumulation occurs in exercising muscles following a break in activity. The metabolites trigger osmotic changes in the cellular environment which leads the Edema. However the Edema does not fully explain increased muscle soreness as a result of eccentric contractions as higher levels of metabolite build-up is experienced following concentric muscle activity.

Connective Tissue Damage Theory

Damage to connective tissue as a result of muscle contraction leads to deep tissue damage and an imbalance in collagen metabolism therefore contributing to DOMS.

Photo Credits

Powerlifting Photo from Jontunnell CC BY on Flickr


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • CyclingFitness profile imageAUTHOR

      Liam Hallam 

      8 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Thanks Kitty, prasetio30 and Tom for your feedback. I'm glad this has been able to help you. Thank you again CF

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom rubenoff 

      8 years ago from United States

      You write a great article. Nice job of getting and arranging this information. I've been curious about the causes of muscle soreness, cramping and spasms. I learned a lot here.

    • prasetio30 profile image


      8 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I agree with kittythedreamer, this was nice hub and complete with useful information, though I don't really love fitness. Thanks for share with us. I learn much from you. Vote up. Take care!


    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Kitty Fields 

      8 years ago from Summerland

      Wonderfully informative hub, CyclingFitness. Voted up and useful. You described the causes for sore muscles perfectly! I've taken anatomy and learned all about this, so you were right on. :)


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)