Most of us can relate to the occasional ache or pain, especially after performing a task or activity that we wouldn't normally do. Lifting heavy furniture to help a friend move, or starting to train for that 10 km run you have always wanted to participate in are examples of activities that you may not be accustomed to doing on a regular basis. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, commonly referred to as "DOMS" is just that....muscular pain and discomfort that occurs up to 24 hours after an unaccustomed physical activity ends. Muscular pain peaks between 24 and 72 hours, and resolves between five and seven days. It is important to note that this type of muscular pain does not occur during the activity itself. People will often report that they did not experience any discomfort during the activity, however, the onset of pain was noted 24 hours or more after the activity was completed.

Symptoms of DOMS may include: pain to the affected muscle, stiffness that may reduce range of motion, swelling, tenderness to touch, and a decrease in muscle strength.

DOMS is common among athletes but can occur in any person that participates in activity at a greater intensity or duration than they would typically participate in. Other examples of activities that can evoke DOMS are: strength training, walking or running down hills, resisted cycling, or high impact activities such as jumping or aerobics. All of these activities require muscles to lengthen while forces are applied, which are referred to as eccentric muscle contractions. To get a clearer picture of the mechanism of injury, think of a person performing a bicep curl with a weight in their hand. As they flex their elbow lifting the weight upward a "concentric contraction" of the biceps muscle occurs. When the weight is lowered, and the elbow extends, the biceps muscle elongates while continuing to contract, creating an "eccentric contraction." It is this eccentric muscle contraction that is responsible for DOMS.

In addition to eccentric muscle contraction, several theories have been proposed to explain the specific mechanism of DOMS including: Muscle spasm, damage to muscle or connective tissue, inflammation, and/or Calcium build up within the injured muscle. Other researchers have further hypothesized that the most probable cause of DOMS may involve the combination of these theories. One suggestion is that eccentric exercise (as described above) may cause damage to the muscle and connective tissue, resulting in tissue inflammation, all of which causes pain post-exercise.

Prevention of DOMs involves slow progression of new exercises, helping muscles to adapt to new forces. In addition, the philosophy "no pain, no gain" does not apply when recovering from DOMS. Pushing through the pain may be detrimental to recovery as painful, weakened muscles may be more at risk for further injury. Treatment of DOMS may include rest, application of ice, physiotherapy modalities such as ultrasound and electrotherapy, massage, and/or compression of the affected muscles.

Please check with your primary health care provider to determine a diagnosis for your muscular pain and the most appropriate treatment plan for your condition.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Kristi Scott, B.Sc., M.Sc.P.T., CAFCI

Kristi is a Registered Physiotherapist. She joined her mother, Shirley Andrusiak, at Guisachan Physiotherapy after graduating from the Masters of Science in Physical Therapy Program at the University of Alberta in 2010. She also holds an Undergraduate Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Victoria. Since graduating Kristi has completed numerous continuing education courses including manual therapy, vertigo, sport first responder, and golf related rehabilitation.  She has also completed her training with the Acupuncture Foundation of Canada Institute, and is certified to perform acupuncture, holding a designation of CAFCI.

Kristi brings an energetic, exercise based approach to her practice. She focuses on client centered care, education, exercise prescription, and manual therapy techniques. 

You can contact Kristi by email at [email protected]




The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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