Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) - The Science Of Sore

What Does DOMS Stand For?

DOMS stands for delayed onset muscle soreness

Today what we're gonna talk about real quick is what DOMS is, explain the possible causes of DOMS, tell you the real reason why DOMS occurs, and then tell you how you can prevent DOMS.

What Is DOMS?

So in the simplest sense, delayed onset muscle soreness, like I said before, is that really tender, sore, painful muscle soreness 24 to 48 hours after doing exercise you're unaccustomed to, like, you know, like chopping wood or, you know, throwing spears or, you know, whatever, whatever else you might do.

Or, after doing really strenuous exercise, or coming back to exercise after a layoff, and you go out and exercise or do these exercises you're unaccustomed to, and you are limping around like a geriatric for a couple of days afterward.

What Causes DOMS?

Now, over the years there's been a lot of possible explanations as to why DOMS occurs.

The first one was, researchers thought that DOMS was caused by lactic acid buildup during exercise.

And if you think that is the right answer, you're wrong. And here's why:

lactate/lactic acid after exercise or intense exercise generally returns to baseline about 60 minutes after exercise ceases. So there's really no good explanation as to why lactic acid/lactate would cause this muscle soreness 24 to 48 hours later.

Another explanation back in the day was DOMS was caused by muscle spasms.

Now this one is such a dumb explanation that I'm not even gonna go into it.

And then the last possible cause is that DOMS is caused by tears in the muscle and the connective tissue and tendons during exercise.

Now, this third explanation really isn't too far off.

The Real Reason DOMS Occurs

So the real reason that DOMS occurs is it's basically tissue damage caused by excessive mechanical force from doing exercise you're not accustomed to or doing strenuous exercise that causes very small micro-tears in the muscles and the connective tissue.

And this is actually backed up by research via something called electron microscopy, that has examined athletes after excessive exercise or exercise they're unaccustomed to.

They do this electron microscopy technique, and they see all these little micro-tears in the muscle. So that is your real cause of delayed onset muscle soreness.

What Happens Physiologically With Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness?

Now we're gonna geek out here for, you know, about a minute or two.

And I'm going to take you through the process of, you know, what happens during DOMS that leads you to be very sore 24 to 48 hours after, you know, doing that exercise you're unaccustomed to, or doing strenuous exercise.

And I'm gonna throw up a graph here real quick, so you can kinda see the explanation as far as, you know, how DOMS occurs.

So let's get right into it:

  • So, the first thing that happens during DOMS is strenuous muscular contractions, especially eccentric contractions result in a structural damage in the muscle.
  • Two, membrane damage occurs including damage to the membranes of the sarcoplasmic reticulum. Now the sarcoplasmic reticulum is a vessel that releases calcium and is basically necessary for muscular contractions to occur.
  • So the damage of the sarcoplasmic reticulum causes calcium to leak out of the SR or sarcoplasmic reticulum, and collect in the mitochondria, which inhibits ATP production. And when you inhibit ATP production, that is not a good thing. That is gonna be lack of energy right there.
  • The build-up of calcium is also gonna activate enzymes which degrade cellular proteins, including contractile proteins which would be actin and myosin.
  • Five, membrane damage combines with a breakdown of muscle protein and results in an inflammatory process which includes an increase in histamine production and production of free radicals.
  • And then finally what happens is the accumulation of all these histamines and free radicals cause swelling around the muscle fiber that stimulates free nerve endings, aka pain receptors, which results in the sensation of pain in the muscle or DOMS.

How Long Does DOMS Last And How To Get Rid Of It Quickly

So that's kind of a little bit of science of the process of DOMS.

Now, what are the researchers recommending to avoid DOMS?

You know, with strenuous exercise or the exercises you're not used to, you know, sometimes it's just gonna happen, there's not a damn thing you can do about it.

But with exercise you're unaccustomed to, like say if you start lifting weights or incorporate a new movement into your exercise routine, the researchers basically suggest that you start practicing these movements slowly over the course of five to 10 days to let your body get used to the movement, to the the researchers basically suggest that you start practicing these movements slowly overnew stress, and this will minimize DOMS to a lesser extent.

Or yeah, minimize DOMS than as if you were to just like jump in at full bore and then you'd experience that laundry list of things that happens during DOMS. So that's one thing you can do to kinda combat DOMS.

Do Ice Baths Help With DOMS?

Now the other thing you may be thinking is, "Well, if DOMS is an inflammation process, why don't I just do, you know, the ice baths or cryotherapy or supplements like green tea or tart cherry that would minimize the inflammation process and then hence minimize DOMS, so you can bounce back quicker?".

Now, you know, every once in a while I think that using those techniques or supplements to minimize the inflammation processes is okay, like if you have a back to back day of racing.

But in general, you don't really wanna minimize the inflammation process completely, because that can impair adaptations to exercise over the long haul.

So, that, in a nutshell, is DOMS.

Take-home points:

  • DOMS is caused by micro-tears in the muscles.
  • It causes swelling, it stimulates pain receptors
  • and basically, you're hobbling around in pain for 24 to 48 hours.

To minimize DOMS:

  • incorporate new movements slowly into your routine
  • maybe do some ice baths and cryotherapy and supplements every once in a while, but over the long haul I would not do that at all.

So, if you have a friend who experiences DOMS on a regular basis, please share this video with them. If you want other videos like this, on endurance training, nutrition, and supplementation, subscribe to the EndurElite YouTube channel, or head on over to the EndurElite blog, at Or get social with us on the EndurElite training and nutrition club Facebook page, or Instagram. And until next time, my endurance friends, stay fueled, stay focused, stay fast, and stay informed.