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Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: Ways to Manage it

Updated on September 17, 2012

Whether you are an elite athlete or just beginning a fitness routine, I am sure you have dealt with muscle soreness before. There’s nothing worse than making the decision to better yourself through exercise and then feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck the next morning you wake up. How discouraging.

Just because someone is at an elite fitness level, does not mean that they do not feel sore after a strenuous workout. Although people at higher fitness levels have developed more tolerance to muscle soreness, a lot of them also have the knowledge to manage the Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness or DOMS. This helps them push through their workouts, continue to perform at higher levels, and shatter their fitness goals week after week, year after year.

Like me, a lot of elites have developed a sadistic addiction to muscle soreness. Instead of running away from being sore, they charge through exercises seeking the soreness that turns many people away from exercise. In fact, they judge their level of soreness to how hard they worked themselves the days before. The more in shape someone is the more stress a person needs to demand on their body to feel sore the next day. Also, the more in shape someone is, the faster the muscle soreness leaves their body.

What separates the elites from the average is twofold. Fist, the elites have the do or die mentality, and will work to achieve their fitness/athletic goals no matter what. These aristocratic people will push themselves through workouts when feeling tired, sore, sick, and fatigued. Second, most of these top level performers have the knowledge to manage their delayed onset muscle soreness.

The routines that elite people perform would leave a novice fitness enthusiast crippled. Because most people workout to simply take on healthier lifestyles, becoming crippled is not too appealing. Nor is it practical. These high performing athletes do not get to their current level of fitness overnight, nor do they have to carry out weeks of training feeling crippled to get there. They simply start off slow, properly manage their muscle soreness, and keep raising the bar. Eventually, their fitness rises to superior levels.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is exactly that, muscle soreness that comes on 24-72 hours after the stress has been placed upon a person’s body. Actually, DOMS is usually more prevalent 48 hours after workout stress. This would explain why someone that does a leg workout on a Monday feels fatigue in their thighs by Wednesday.

DOMS comes in the form of pain and stiffness of the affected muscles. Delayed onset muscle soreness is one symptom of exercise-induced muscle damage. The soreness is the body’s reaction to the muscle breakdown conducted during exercise or unaccustomed body movements. By being sore, the nervous system sends a message to the brain that there has been damage to the body. The brain responds by sending a response message of soreness to protect the muscles from being over used again. Delayed onset muscle soreness should not be confused with acute muscle soreness, which is muscle soreness that appears immediately after and during exercise [I].

I cannot change someone’s drive to push through pain in the gym. Like mentioned above, people that have the do or die mentalities are simply born this way, not created. They are known as type-A personalities and are among the few in the fitness and athletic world.

My goal is to show you some tips on how to relieve delayed onset muscle soreness. I intend this information to keep beginners charging forward in their quest for beginning a new exercise program. I hope it keeps them focused knowing that there is a solution to the pain induced by beginning an exercise program and taking on a healthier lifestyle. Finally, I hope it helps others reach new levels of fitness.

Drink Lots of Water

First, if you are going to workout, you will need to hydrate. Drinking water and staying hydrated is your first defense to warding off unwelcomed muscle soreness.

Experts suggest that you shouldn’t depend upon thirst as a signal to drink water. By the time your body begins to feel thirsty, your body is already dehydrated and you risk getting muscle cramps and fatigue that will affect your work out. If you wait to this point, it will also cause your body to begin the onset of delayed muscle soreness faster than usual.

If you are beginning an exercise program than you will need to start by drinking water at least two hours before your workout. Try to stay away from fruit juices and sugary beverages as these are going to make your energy levels crash by the time you hit the gym. Drink at least eight to 16 ounces of water before you even start your warm-ups.

During exercise, drink one-half to one cup of water for every 15-20 minutes of exercise. Although this might seem tough at first, eventually your body will adapt to having fluids in your system while you workout. In fact, the fuller your stomach is, the faster it will empty.

After exercise, you will want to replenish the fluids that your body has lost. Drink two cups of fluid for every pound of body weight you lose during a workout [II].


Start and end you work out by stretching. I suggest taking five to eight minutes to stretch before a workout and 15-20 minutes to stretch at the end of your workout.

There are many types of stretching. Stretching through movements is known as dynamic stretching. This is best used in the beginning of your workout because it not only stretches the muscles; it also warms the body up and raises your heart rate. Some examples of dynamic stretches are the bend and reach, the modified push-up, and the inchworm.

At the end of your workout, I recommend spending 15-20 minutes doing either self myofascial release on a foam roller or static stretching. Both of these stretches are beneficial to preventing delayed onset muscle soreness but are both very different in nature. Self myofascial release stretching focuses on releasing the tight muscle fibers and deep muscle tissue. It is a much more targeted and focused phase of stretching. Static stretching is conducted by stretching and then holding the stretch. Static stretching stretches the entire muscle belly and is not as focused as self myofascial release stretching.

Self myofascial release is probably the best type of stretching to prevent delayed onset muscle soreness. If you are just beginning an exercise program, you should probably stick with this style of stretching. It releases triggers, within the muscles, that have become stiff and swollen from working out. For a complete listing of ways to conduct self myofascial release on the entire body, please click on my hub about self myofascial release.

Examples of Static Stretches

Static stretching is the most commonly known type of stretch. This is nothing more than holding a stretch for 20-30 seconds. Unlike self myofascial release stretches, static stretching stretches the entire muscle belly. Some examples of static stretches are the huddler, the standing calf stretch, and the pectoral stretch.

Relax with Warm Water

Take a warm bath after working out. There are many benefits associated with taking a bath. Such benefits include relaxing muscles, calming your mind, detoxify, moisturize, stimulate circulation and clear your lymph system [III]. As you can tell, the benefits of taking a warm bath exceed that of just relaxing the muscles after a workout. Because warm water relaxes the muscles, it will also aid in fighting off the delayed onset of muscle soreness.

If you are one of those people that simply do not like to sit motionless in a tub full of water, you can simply exchange the warm bath with a warm shower. Instead of the usual quick shower, take time to stand in the falling warm water for a while. Let the benefits of the warm water heal your body.

Be careful that the water is not hot. This is the reason I highlighted “warm” above. By taking a hot bath (or shower) you can raise your heart rate and perspire profusely without even knowing it. This will cause you to lose more fluids, dehydrate your body and increase your risk for getting delayed onset muscle soreness, not better it. Pregnant women and heart patients should be careful when using warm or hot water to relax their muscles. Consult with your physician to see if you are healthy enough to take a warm bath or shower.

Get a Massage

Schedule a professional massage. If you have never had a deep tissue massage (also known as a sports massage) before, I highly recommend getting one. If you are just beginning a new routine, I especially recommend scheduling a massage after your first week of working out. This is when delayed onset muscle soreness hits people the hardest. A lot of people become discouraged when they get the crippling effects of their first week or working out. They believe that every week after is going to be the same crippling feeling. Although not true, by scheduling a massage the first week, you will get over the initial hump.

Many professional athletes get massages and swear to their benefits. Getting massages helps relieve their muscles so that they are not too stiff and sore to perform at high levels.

Although massages on a regular basis can become expensive, getting them at least once every two weeks or once a month will go a long way with helping your body fight off delayed onset muscle soreness. It is also a great way to reward yourself for the hard work you have endured throughout the weeks prior.

Take an Anti-Inflammatory

Take an anti-inflammatory. Over the counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen will not only take away the pain, it will prevent the further swelling of the broken down muscle tissue. If you are like me, you do not like to take anything unless absolutely necessary. If your body is so sore that you are having a hard time walking up and down stairs, getting out of your desk chair, or picking something up from the ground, you probably should take an anti-inflammatory.

Do not get into the habit of taking these pills before you workout by anticipating the pain that might come afterwards. Like mentioned above, the pain will come 24-72 hours after the workout. This means the anti-inflammatory will be completely out of your system by the time the delayed onset muscle soreness begins. The pain happens for a reason and is your body’s way of telling you something. Listen to your body. If it talks crap, throw it an anti-inflammatory.

Get some SLEEP

Finally, there is no substitute for getting sleep when it comes to preventing delayed onset muscle soreness.

“Just as exercise and nutrition are essential for optimal health and happiness, so is sleep. The quality of your sleep directly affects the quality of your waking life, including your mental sharpness, productivity, emotional balance, creativity, physical vitality, and even your weight. No other activity delivers so many benefits with so little effort! [IV]

Sleep also helps in the prevention of delayed onset muscle soreness because sleep is where your muscles repair themselves. When someone exercises, they are actually breaking muscle fibers down. This is what gives them the swollen look and feeling. Sleep helps repair these damaged muscle fibers and get your body back to balance.

“While sleep requirements vary slightly from person to person, most healthy adults need between 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function at their best. Children and teens need even more. And despite the notion that our sleep needs decrease with age, older people still need at least 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep. Since older adults often have trouble sleeping this long at night, daytime naps can help fill in the gap “[V].





[IV] & [V]


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    • joecseko profile image

      Joe Cseko jr 19 months ago from New York, USA, Earth

      I have to admit, I saw the title of your hub and said "oh, boy, he's gonna say this is a result of lactic acid". Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised. I think I found this hub because I'd written a hub on DOMS, too.

      So, with so many poorly informed people writing on this subject, it came s a surprise that you actually listed many of the underlying causes.

      If I may, I'd like to make one correction.

      The use of anti inflammatory drugs, as well as antipyretics is contraindicated for muscle soreness. The reason is twofold.

      1) The soreness that one feels, as a result of the muscle damage (microtrauma) is caused by prostaglandins. While this pain is perceived as bad, those prostaglandins are partially responsible for the anabolism that occurs once the athlete is sore. Mitigating them will actually stifle the healing process.

      2) Pain signals cause the body to secrete mucophages. Those mucophages will help deliver insulinlike growth factor (IGF-1) to that site. IGF-1, a by product of growth hormone has many roles in the body. Among the more important here is the maturation of muscle fibers.

      Nonetheless, this is a good hub, sir.

    • jaybird22 profile image

      jaybird22 5 years ago from New York

      beingwell & CCahill: Thank you so much for your feedback. Hope this hub helped!

    • CCahill profile image

      CCahill 5 years ago from England

      Cannot recommend stretching enough, hugely neglected by a lot of people.

      Voted up and Shared

    • beingwell profile image

      beingwell 5 years ago from Bangkok

      Voted up, useful and shared!

      Great hub. I recently experienced doms, actually from my running. I ran the next day and had a massage after. Now, I'm all well. I'm ready to run again. Woooh!

    • jaybird22 profile image

      jaybird22 5 years ago from New York

      wrenfrost56: Glad you liked the read and hope it helped ;-)

    • wrenfrost56 profile image

      wrenfrost56 5 years ago from U.K.

      I do a lot of dance and aerobic exercise and I have often suffered delayed onset muscle soreness. I found this very useful and well written. I also think I am long over due a good massage! :)

    • jaybird22 profile image

      jaybird22 5 years ago from New York

      Kyricus: I'm with you on that! :-)

    • Kyricus profile image

      Tony 5 years ago from Ohio

      Very helpful advice here, especially the part about sleep. I find that sleeping longer, especially after a grueling workout, helps keep the soreness levels down, at least for me.

      It's funny, but as you said, I too look forward to that soreness, it means I've actually been working hard enough to accomplish something.

    • alyessamoore profile image

      alyessamoore 5 years ago from Miami

      Yes i also get pain in my neck, shoulders etc, but i know the reason of using long time sitting on chair in front of computer or other things.

      I like the points you mention in your hub to get rid of this pains slowly slowly.

      Thanks for sharing :)

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Great tips! I have always worked out but took a year off. I dove headfirst into circuit training. I do it 4 or 5 times a week. The first few times the body pain was severe. I took ibuprophen a half hour before going back and it helped. I think reworking sore muscles gets rid of some of the pain. I hope you will write a hub about muscle fatigue which is my bigger problem. It is a pleasure to meet you here on Hubpages and I can tell I can learn lots from you.