Imagine waking up the day after a grueling workout, and your muscles feel like they've been hit by a truck. It's a familiar feeling for many fitness enthusiasts, but what does it mean? Is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) a promising sign of muscle growth, or is it simply a side effect of your body recovering from the strain? Today, we dive deep into the science behind DOMS to unveil the truth about its role in your fitness journey.
Did You Know? Some genes affect how your body responds to training, including how inflammatory responses and muscle fatigue. People carrying certain gene changes may be more prone to DOMS or exercise-induced muscle damage than the others. Learn more:
What Is DOMS?
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS is muscle pain and stiffness that affects your body 12-24 hours after a workout.
These symptoms typically start to get better after 72 hours.
DOMS differs from pain during exercise, which might indicate injury.
It is most common in people who have just started or returned to exercise after a long gap.
DOMS can hinder your workout plans and fitness goals.
Symptoms Of DOMS
While local muscle pain is one of the main symptoms of DOMS, it can be much more than that:
- Swelling of affected limbs
- Stiffness of the joint accompanied by reduced movement.
- Tenderness to the touch
- Elevated creatine kinase (CK) enzyme in the blood, signaling possible tissue damage.
- In extreme cases, kidneys might be at risk due to muscle damage.
What Causes DOMS
Exercising puts physical stress on your muscles.
It creates microscopic tears in your muscle fibers.
As your muscles heal from this abnormal stress, inflammation causes soreness.
DOMS is the most common after eccentric workouts.
They include jogging downhill or lowering a barbell.
When you do these exercises, your muscles lengthen while contracting.
The severity of DOMS will depend on how hard you have worked out.
Is DOMS A Sign Of Muscle Growth?
DOMS occurs when you put your body through sudden heavy exercise.
It safeguards your body from further pain and severe damage.
However, it is not necessarily a sign of muscle growth.
DOMS stops occurring quite quickly after your body gets used to strenuous workouts.
It is important to note that you can still achieve muscle growth without suffering from DOMS.
Genetics Behind DOMS or (exercise-induced muscle damage)
Find Out Your Genetic Risk For DOMS With Ancestry Test Data
Studies indicate that genetics might play a part in the occurrence and severity of DOMS.
Inflammatory Responses in DOMS
Women may experience less DOMS pain than men due to different inflammatory responses of the body.
Estrogen protects the body from muscle damage and inflammation.
One study showed that women on birth control had less muscle soreness after exercise than those without birth control.
Muscle Fiber Distribution and DOMS
The alpha-actinin-3 protein (ACTN3) gene is found in fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Fast twitch muscle fibers are essential for power and strength, as opposed to slow twitch muscle fibers needed for endurance.
ACTN3 gene reduces damage due to eccentric muscle contraction.
Humans have three types of ACTN3 genes: RR, XX, and RX.
People with the XX variant have a deficiency of the ACTN3 gene.
Deficiency of this gene might make a person more prone to suffer from DOMS.
The Myosin Light Chain Kinase (MLCK) gene may also play a part in muscle soreness.
Athletes were tested for this gene.
Those with a homozygous CC variant of this gene had less muscle soreness than those with a heterozygous CA variant.
Risk Factors For DOMS
The most significant risk for DOMS is starting an intense workout suddenly without a warmup.
However, some studies show that DOMS affects men more than women.
A lower blood creatine kinase level can lead to lesser DOMS.
Women typically have less CK enzyme in their blood than men.
The presence of specific genes also increases the risk of DOMS.
No DNA Data? No Problem
Here's How You Can Still Get Fitness Insights
How To Relieve DOMS After Your Workout?
Usually, the pain and discomfort of DOMS fade after 72 hours of onset.
However, if you want to ease the pain and discomfort, here are some tips that can help:
- Massage therapy: Massage can help reduce the pain and discomfort of DOMS.
It releases muscle tension and increases blood flow in the affected area.
It is best to get a massage after 48 hours of a hard workout.
You can also invest in massage gadgets if you can't go to a professional.
- Cold baths: A cold bath 24-48 hours after your workout will help decrease swelling.
Some athletes even swear by ice baths.
However, you can also start with ice packs if ice baths are too intense.
- Warm baths: Warm baths can also help ease muscle pain.
They have the added benefit of helping you relax and improve your sleep.
- Protein and carbs diet: Eating a protein and carbs-rich snack after a workout can help counter DOMS.
Proteins help repair damaged muscles and ease soreness and inflammation.
Carbs replenish glycogen, which is the body's stored energy.
- OTC pain relievers: You can apply a topical pain reliever a few times daily if you are sore in a particular place.
Essential oils may also help ease discomfort.
You can take OTC non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen if you have severe pain.
However, it is always advisable to consult your doctor before starting any medicine.
How To Prevent DOMS?
While it might be impossible to avoid DOMS, it might be possible to reduce its intensity.
Here are some tips to avoid DOMS:
- Start slow: DOMS typically affects people who suddenly do an intense workout without prior planning or preparation.
In other words, it affects beginners and those working out the most after a gap.
Intense exercise often comes as a shock for people with little working out experience.
So, starting slowly and getting your body used to exercise is advisable.
Light training will still help you build strength if you are a beginner.
Gradually increase the intensity of your training sessions without putting too much pressure on your body.
Too hard and fast can make you extremely sore and crush your motivation.
- Doing adequate warmups and cool down before and after working out: The most common cause of DOMS is sudden heavy exercise.
Doing a low-intensity jog can help ease your body before a workout session.
Similarly, stretching your body post-workout is a great way to keep DOMS at bay.
- Proper hydration: staying hydrated is vital to good recovery after training sessions.
Studies show that dehydration can increase the severity of DOMS.
Make sure that you drink water before and after working out.
Summary: Is DOMS A Sign Of Muscle Growth?
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS often affects those who suddenly start working out.
Muscle pain and stiffness occur 12-24 hours after a workout.
Many people say that DOMS is a sign of muscle growth.
However, new studies show it might not be a sign of muscle growth.
Some genes are associated with an increased risk of DOMS.
Gender also plays a role when it comes to the severity of DOMS.
Doing proper warmups before starting any exercise and using OTC and massage therapy might help counter symptoms of DOMS.