Muscle soreness occurs if you complete an exercise or movement your body is not familiar with. You may feel this soreness within a few hours, but it often reaches its peak after one or two days of exercise. What can you do about it? Read more from Dr. Andrew Cheng, DC.

This article covers what you need to know about Muscle Soreness commonly referred to as DOMS:

  • Muscle soreness is due to doing an unfamiliar exercise or due to training beyond what the body is used to.
  • DOMS is thought to happen due to the processes involved in fixing damaged muscle tissue.
  • There is yet to be a consensus whether DOMS is necessary for muscle growth.
  • You can treat DOMS with NSAIDs, massage, diet, or exercises. Many also look to recovery supplements to aid in speed of muscle recovery.


Muscle soreness occurs if you complete an exercise or movement your body is not familiar with. You may feel this soreness within a few hours, but it often reaches its peak after one or two days of exercise.

This soreness is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and may signify real muscle damage. DOMS can make it tough to walk, decrease your movement and stamina, and cause pain for a few days.

Muscle pain can be a sign of muscle stress, which is what happens when you use specific muscles for new types of exercise or if you use them too much. When this happens, the muscles can get swollen, potentially restricting movement and requiring a much needed recovery phase.

What Causes Muscle Soreness?

Generally speaking, muscle soreness is what happens when the body’s lactic acid levels reach its peak. Lactic acid, in a sense, acts as the body’s way of telling you that it’s either no longer capable of intense movements and heavy lifting or it’s not ready for another, similar training session. It can also be interpreted as a way for the body to prevent injury brought on by overtraining.

So, muscle soreness isn’t always a negative thing. In fact, it’s actually a sign that your body’s “emergency stop” processes are working efficiently.

What is DOMS?

DOMS is defined as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. It got its name from the muscle pain and soreness many lifters get well after an exercise session is over. More often, DOMS sets in or is felt one day after you train, and is noticed after you wake up.

Depending on which part you trained, the frequency of your training, or what muscles you used, DOMS can last anywhere from one whole day to three or more. Naturally, beginners often feel a more intense level of DOMS which can persist longer than those who are used to training.

Some treat DOMS as a sign of fitness improvement. After all, you only hurt the muscles you barely use. If you do train intensely once a week, you will always experience a good bout of muscle pain. However, if you increase the number of days you train, the level of pain subsides and can sometimes be so insignificant that you ignore it.

Although several movements can be the reason for DOMS, running or jogging downhill, as well as any activity or exercise that involves lowering weight to the ground (i.e., push-ups, bends, deadlifts) are the most likely causes of soreness. If they continue the movements, their body will adapt to the exercises (and weight for weight training) and reduce the effects of muscle soreness.

Is Soreness a Prerequisite for Growth?

Though many fitness enthusiasts and even celebrities support the idea that muscle soreness leads to muscle hypertrophy, individuals can get stronger even if they are not sore. If pain was necessary to get strength, no one would be exercising well after a certain point.

However, some people are not fully satisfied with their vigorous workout unless there is an indication of pain. Some scientists do agree that exercise-induced muscle damage precedes muscle growth, but then again, there is no specific evidence to prove that soreness is necessary for growth.


DOMS was first described by Theodore Hough in 1902. He defines DOMS as “fundamentally the result of ruptures within the muscle.” The ruptures are what we refer to now as “muscle tears” or “micro tears.” However, the cellular mechanisms and etiology are still not entirely known.

Many theories have come regarding the phenomenon of DOMS, and new research suggests that none of them are either proven or disproved. It’s currently thought that muscle soreness is due to an acute inflammatory response. Successive research failed to validate this theory convincingly.

Early theories describe DOMS as a sign of lactic acid accumulation, but it has been proven over time that lactic acid alone cannot be responsible for the prevalence of muscle soreness.

What many do agree upon is, an unconventional exercise that causes high tension in the contractile/flexible system in muscles results in DOMS.


An effective means to reduce DOMS has yet to be produced, but there are some alternatives that have been shown to provide some sort of relief.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, may give some relief from the pain. The problem is, regular use of NSAIDs can cause adverse side effects such as upper gastrointestinal ulceration or bleeding due to mucosal harm.

If taking an NSAID isn’t one of your treatment options, below are non-drug alternatives.

Therapeutic options:

  • Therapeutic massage helps blood circulation and encourages healing and repair.
  • Cryotherapy (icing) of the damaged muscle minimizes muscle pain. This is why athletes would often jump straight into ice cold waters after a match or have ice bags wrapped around their knees while having a post-game interview.
  • Pulsed Ultrasound and the use of electrical current modalities can be used to treat DOMS effectively.
  • Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy reduces the remedial time of the injured muscle fibers and connective tissue. This therapy increases the amount of oxygen your blood can carry; therefore, restoring normal levels of blood gases and tissue function and improves blood circulation and healing.


  • For temporary pain relief, light training can be done using movements that aren’t as rigorous as your regular training.
  • Many athletes think that mild stretching makes them feel better.

Dietary options:

  • Clinical trials have yet to prove that Vitamin C plays a role in the repair of connective tissue. Nevertheless, research shows that it helps heal the soreness.
  • Before exercising, using antioxidants that can fight against the free fundamental by-products of cellular metabolism might help prevent DOMS.

On top of the suggestions above, taking recovery supplements could help provide faster relief from Muscle Soreness. Not only that, but they can also help the body maximize its muscle growth potential by taking advantage of the anabolic state of muscle tissue post-workout.


  • For any muscle injury, complete rest is required for muscle fibers to heal effectively
  • Several treatment techniques which ease muscle soreness and pain do not actually encourage quicker healing of the damaged tissue
  • Muscle damage due to exercise is a normal process, and the body secretes lactic acid – a substance that is thought to start DOMS – to protect the body from possible injury.
  • There are many ways to reduce the symptoms of DOMS or delay its occurrence, but research has yet to definitely conclude which one is effective for either or both.
  • Certain supplements can help expedite your recovery process and maximize your body’s muscle growth potential


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