If you’ve ever felt sore muscles after trying a new sport, returned to activity after a long absence or advanced your physio exercises (way to go by the way!), it is very likely that you have experienced some level of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. We often refer to this as DOMS. It is common for patients to have concern about the level of pain they get from exercise, whether that’s because their muscles have reconditioned or they are increasing intensity or volume. While there is always an argument to use pain as a reliable guide, pulling up sore can also be a great sign your body is adapting and improving its capacity for more work. What your pain is trying to tell you isn't always clear cut. How can you tell the difference between post-session soreness and suspecting an injury? At what point do you consider a visit to the physio? And how much pain is good pain? First off, what is DOMS? Delayed onset muscle soreness, referred to as DOMS is a sore, aching and painful feeling in the muscles after unfamiliar or unaccustomed exercise. It is normal for muscle soreness to occur after a workout that was challenging or new to the body. DOMS is thought to be temporary muscle damage in the form of micro tearing and inflammation which can start within 2 hours of the activity, usually peaking within 48 hours or even lasting up to a week. Some people call this ‘second day soreness’. It’s this muscle damage that sends the signal to your body to repair and build back the muscle fibres stronger than before. In small and consistent doses, this is the principle of progressive overload. Progressive overload involves continually increasing the demands on the musculoskeletal system to continually make gains in muscle size, strength, and endurance. Simply put, in order to get stronger, you must continually stimulate your muscles to work harder than they normally do. How to tell an injury and DOMS apart:
- Muscle soreness will feel achy, stiff or tight. An injury will usually cause sharp pain.
- The pain has not eased after a few days
- It doesn’t feel like a muscle