Delayed onset muscle soreness, commonly referred to as DOMS, is commonly experienced in the 1-2 days following exercise. DOMS can be described as a stiffness, tenderness, or achiness in the affected muscles, and most often occurs in response to physical activity that stresses muscle tissues beyond what they are accustomed to.
Is it a sign of injury?
In general, no. DOMS is a very common experience for people who have started a new form of exercise, or who have recently increased the duration, intensity or frequency of their current physical activities. While DOMS is a sign that the body has been moving in a way that it is unaccustomed to, it does not usually mean that you have injured yourself. DOMS typically reduces over the course of 1-2 days, and usually will not be noticeable until the day or second day following the physical activity. Pain that comes on during or immediately after physical activity, or that is particularly sharp or intense, is most likely not related to DOMS and should be assessed by a medical or allied health professional.
What can I do to help it?
Gentle movements such as walking or dynamic stretching can increase blood flow to the affected muscles, reducing the tender, stiff sensation and improving your range of movement. While it is important to challenge yourself in your physical activities to ensure that you continue to improve, DOMS that lasts 3 or more days may be a sign that you are over-loading your body. In order to reduce your DOMS, you may choose to reduce the duration, frequency or intensity of your physical activity. Other things to consider if there has been no recent change to your physical activity, but you are still experiencing DOMS, include your stress levels, the quality of your sleep, how well you are hydrating, and how well you are eating.
If you don’t experience DOMS, fantastic! It is completely possible and very common for people who have been exercising for extended periods to not experience DOMS, or to experience it minimally. A lack of pain does not mean you have not worked hard – it just means that your body is getting better at adapting to the physical activity you are doing. As long as you feel that you are working hard during your physical activity and are continuing to challenge yourself within reasonable limits, a lack of DOMS is not a problem.