If you have been a regular at the gym, or been reading any articles on resistance training, then chances are you have come across the term ‘DOMs’ (and wondered what exactly it meant?). DOMs stand for Delayed Onset Muscle soreness’ and is actually a pretty important term when it comes to training and looking after your body. Because anyone who has given a workout their all, knows all too well that unsteady feeling of trying to walk down stairs the next day, or even just lift up your bag!
The problem is there is good pain and there is bad pain, and it is important to know the difference.
What are DOMs?
DOMs is the term used to describe that aching pain (that can vary from very mild to cripplingly uncomfortable), that occurs in muscles usually within 24-72 hours of an intense workout (please note that this can vary slightly). It is also common when people are starting working on muscles, or using exercises, that they haven’t been using much before.
For many years it was widely believed that DOMs occurred due to a build-up of lactic acid in the muscles, however this theory has been largely rejected. Though its exact cause is still slightly in question, we now believe that DOMs are due to inflammation in the muscle tissue that is caused by the microscopic tears created in the connective tissue elements and muscle fibers after repetitive muscle lengthening under load (when we push our muscles out of their comfort zone). These sensitize the nociceptors which then enhance the feeling of pain in our body.
So basically we now think that DOMs occurs because of microtrauma of the connective tissue. Even though it may be most noticeable in our legs (because we use these large muscles all the time!) it can actually occur in any part of our body.
What’s the difference between DOMs and acute muscle strain?
Though DOMs can be quite uncomfortable, the pain is not usually acute, and is only present when using the muscles affected. DOMs usually subsides within 5 days of commencing and doesn’t require treatment. You can help alleviate the discomfort and lessen the recovery time by applying heat to the muscles, having a massage or practicing some light exercise (e.g. walking for your legs or butt).
Acute strains are caused due to sudden lengthening of the tissue of either the muscle or tendon, it doesn’t need to be under load to acquire the strain and the pain is usually felt instantly or soon after injury has occurred. Medical aid may be required and full recovery time is (typically) between 6-8 weeks.
Do you need DOMs to know you are building muscle?
The simple answer here is no. You do not need to experience pain after every workout to know that you are building strength and endurance in your muscles. However, slight DOM’s may be experienced each time you step your workout up to the next level, or when you incorporate new exercises or work on areas you have been neglecting.
At the end of the day it is important to be mindful of your body and check in with how you are feeling. Though gradually increasing the stress you place on your muscles during your workout session is an excellent way of enhancing muscles strength and endurance, it is important not to overdo it. Jumping from 5k to 20k may be just asking for trouble. So take it easy, listen to your body and remember a little pain can be good, but intense pain is an indication you have pushed your body too far and it is going to require a longer rest time and a little extra TLC to help you recover.