Muscle aches - what is normal?


It is quite common to feel a little sore after pushing yourself harder than normal in a workout, and even more so after starting a new activity. This soreness can show up 24 to 48 hours after you have exercised, and can affect anybody no matter what their level of physical fitness.

However, this shouldn't put you off. The ache is entirely normal, shouldn't last for a long period of time and actually shows that your muscles are adapting to the stress of exercise and getting stronger.

What causes our muscles to hurt after exercise?

Our muscles ache after starting new exercise plans, changing our routines or simply working harder than normal as this causes microscopic damage to the muscle fibres. The stiffness or soreness is known as delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS.

Can DOMS happen to everybody?

Even people who have regularly exercised all their lives can experience DOMS, and this includes professional athletes. While DOMS can put off people who are unused to exercising, it is important to remember that the pain and discomfort will die down as your muscles adapt, and when they recover they will be stronger than before. This means that unless you push yourself harder again in the next session, the degree of DOMS you experience after subsequent sessions should soon subside.

What activities lead to DOMS?

Any kind or intensity of exercise you don't normally do can lead to DOMS, especially those exercises that contract your muscle while it lengthens. These are known as eccentric muscle contractions, and can include anything from walking down stairs to lowering weights.

How long does DOMS usually last for?

A typical time frame is between three and five days, with the pain occurring either one or two days after exercise. This pain can range between mild discomfort and a severe ache, but it is important not to confuse it with a pain that occurs while you are exercising. If the latter happens, you should stop your activity immediately.

Treatment for DOMS

DOMS does not have a simple way to treat it unfortunately, and nothing is 100% certain to be effective. You can treat some of the symptoms though with ice packs, massage, anti-inflammatory pain-killing drugs (such as aspirin), acupressure and by resting up.

You shouldn't need any professional medical advice to treat DOMS, but you should speak to a doctor if you experience heavy swelling, if the pain becomes significant or is still there after a few days.

Preventing the development of DOMS

You can avoid DOMS by taking a new activity slowly and steadily. By giving your muscles time to adapt to new tasks and movement, it should help limit the amount of soreness you experience.

Warming up and stretching is not generally effective in preventing DOMS, although both will reduce your chances of injuring yourself as you exercise, as well as improving how effective your work out is.

Should I keep exercising with DOMS?

Exercise may feel uncomfortable with DOMS, although you can continue to exercise if you wish - make sure you warm up thoroughly. It may disappear while you are exercising, but is likely to return after you have finished. However, if it does make exercising difficult, it is perhaps wise to stop the activity for a few days, or even try something different to allow your muscles time to recover.

Am I likely to keep getting DOMS?

As you exercise, your muscles are adapting to your new routine. This means that the next time you do the activity, your muscles will be more prepared, ensuring that there will be less tissue damage than before. The result of this is less soreness and a quicker recovery time.