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Debunking the Myths of DOMS

Renato Del Greco
March 17, 2021

With the new year, comes New Year resolutions. It’s a great time to get back into that gym habit. You may have changed your habits, done dry January or got back into the gym for a few super sessions on the lead up to Spring.

However, here’s the scenario…’re eager to get back into a good orkout hit the gym hard for your first few sessions post the holiday overindulgence. Perhaps you push it a bit much, up your load or try a new exercise...but you’re happy with your performance, you’ve outdone’re pumped with endorphins and you feel great!...but then… WOW! OW! the next day, or even two days later, you have muscle aches and pains. You find it difficult to get out of bed, perform your usual routines, especially when using the muscles you focussed on exercising at your overzealous workout.

This achiness you’re accustomed to getting a few days after a gym sesh is called DOMS.

So, WHAT exactly is DOMS?

DOMS stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and is the feeling of achy stiff muscles you get, often in your legs and arms, or the area you have been working out most.

WHEN do you get DOMS?

Most people will feel an ache in their muscles the next day after a strenuous workout which can peak 2-3 days later. As the name suggests there is a delay which often tricks people into thinking they’ve escaped punishment only to feel the ache some days later. Occasionally, it can even last up to a week!

WHY do you get DOMS?

The reason behind DOMS is that the connective tissue and the muscle fibres - the “sarcomeres” - have been damaged or broken after eccentric exercise - this is the extension or lengthening of your muscles: muscle elongation if you like, and is the opposite of a contracting muscle (shortening). In fact, opposing muscles will shorten, for example, biceps shorten (contract) when triceps lengthen and vice versa. (See more on “reciprocal inhibition” to heighten your knowledge.)

WHY is there a delay with DOMS?

Well, the reason for the delay is the time it takes for your body to heal itself. Blood cells have migrated to the area to aid its recovery so this increased pressure/inflammation of the muscle injury has awakened your pain receptors in that area.

What are the MYTHS about DOMS?

  • Foam rolling - whilst foam rollers act as a relief for DOMS, this is a temporary fix. There is no change in muscle tone. It is not actually fixing the problem but more of a distraction.
  • Lengthening warm up and cool down stretches - Yes, post exercise stretching will help relieve muscle tension but increasing the time you spend is not going to reduce the effects of DOMS. The muscle damage has already been done.
  • Previous beliefs stemmed from lactic acid build up but this is not the reason for DOMS. Here's some research for further clarification.
  • Fitter people don’t get DOMS - although it’s true that new types of exercise can bring on more DOMS, the myth that more unfit people are more susceptible than more regular gym goers is a misrepresentation. Yes, there is some justification for the more you load, the more muscle tears you are likely to experience so the more you will feel DOMS but this can happen to everyone. However, if your body gets used to a particular exercise it will happen less.

How do you battle DOMS?

  • Keep moving! Walk it off. If you can’t face the gym, go swimming to lessen the load on your muscles but still work them out or do gentle yogic stretching. Book a class here.
  • Thermo- or cryo- treatment… hot presses will widen blood vessels and promote blood flow, so get rid of swelling. Ice baths taken straight after exercise will constrict blood vessels so lessen the onset of DOMS.
  • Compression clothing - wearing compression socks and tights during training to prevent the extremity DOMS. Compressing the muscles will speed up blood flow and reduce muscle soreness.
  • Massage after exercise can reduce inflammation as it has been shown to reduce cytokine production which causes swelling to occur.
  • A hot bath with Epsom salts (or not!) will help your muscles relax, improve blood flow but it won't remove toxins through your pores. . .
  • Eat a recovery concoction of protein, vitamin C and vitamin E.

How do I know if pain after exercise is DOMS or a sign of damage?

DOMS is a sign that your body is healing. Unlike a specific injury, DOMS is a feeling of achiness: tight or stiff muscles, which are tender to touch and tired, whereas an injury will have a more specific sharper pain in one area.

Osteopathic effects on DOMS

Osteopathy will help your muscles recover and sooth the aches and pains


  • The soft tissue techniques will help move the blood around alleviating swelling in those painful areas. "Delayed-onset muscle soreness was significantly less for the massage condition for peak soreness[…] Massage treatment had significant effects on plasma creatine kinase activity". High levels of this enzyme show muscle damage so if massage can lower these levels, it can decrease inflammation.
  • MET's- muscle energy techniques that osteopaths use to achieve greater stretch in muscles, will improve range of motion.
  • Precise articulation of joints will improve biomechanics in general. Better biomechanics means a reduction in overall load through the tissues. In other words your body's shock absorbency has been improved.
  • Your muscles might be a bit sore but 'good' painhelps block out ongoing 'nagging' pain. This mechanism, known as DNICs - diffuse noxious inhibitory control - is when pain stimuli in another area of the body inhibits the initial pain response.

For more information call and speak to one of our osteopaths on 0300 561 0161, or email us at


Renato Del Greco

Renato moved to London to complete his degree at the University College of Osteopathy. His interest in Osteopathy stems from a desire to help others, particularly  engaging physical activity, as a proven method of improving health and wellbeing.  He adopts a mainly structural Osteopathic treatment approach whilst understanding this in the context of the patient’s lifestyle and personal goals. He supports this with his actions as having completed the Land’s End to John O’Groats cycle ride in 2015, he still maintains a keen interest in cycling.

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