Let’s set the scene. You’ve had a good workout. Several, in fact. You’ve been going an extra mile on your run—just because, adding more weight to your leg press, or maybe you hit that 90-minute vinyasa class instead of your typical 60. Basically, you’re totally killing it and feeling great.
Until, one day, you wake up and feel, well… not-so-great. Your back is sore. Your neck is sore. Your quads are flaming. There’s a knot below your shoulder blade. And suddenly you feel like you can’t walk to the bathroom, let alone kick butt on your next workout.
What’s going on? Meet acute muscle tightness, or “delayed-onset muscle soreness” (DOMS), says Michael Jonesco, a sports medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) Explained
Typically, DOMS is the musculoskeletal pain the creeps into your world about one to three days after particularly tough exercise, resulting in sore muscles, a loss of range of motion in your joints, and reduced muscle strength. (Ugh.)
Basically, tiny cellular changes are wreaking havoc on your body. “DOMS occurs when there is mechanical breakdown at the level of the muscle cell,” explains Jonesco. “This causes enzymes in the cell to recruit inflammatory mediators to the area, which stimulates pain receptors, called nociceptors, in the muscle cell.”
Experts aren’t sure why this breakdown happens, exactly. It’s a little bit mysterious and somewhat multifaceted. “There are several theories that exist to explain its origin, though no single theory has been accepted to date,” says Jonesco.
Don’t worry: there is no permanent damage to your muscles, and it turns out to be a win for your body in the end. “This is actually an adaptive process, which enables the muscle to strengthen and tolerate higher loads in future workouts,” Jonesco says.
Look for DOMS to pop up after you start a new strength program, “especially one heavy in eccentric activities, like exercises that strengthen the muscle as it lengthens it,” says Jonesco. For example, certain lunging activities for that target the hamstrings, and some yoga poses for the back. Symptoms are typically limited, and should improve over the next five to seven days.
The Best Way to Deal with DOMS
During that period of soreness, your muscles won’t perform at the level you’re used to, which may increase the stress on your tendons and ligaments if you continue to OD on exercise. With that in mind, says Jonesco, you should back off on the intensity until you no longer feel sore and tight, or choose activities that don’t target the strained muscle groups.
The best treatment for reducing pain from DOMS, is actually more exercise, says Jonesco—just keep it light, and keep movin’. “Stretching and other flexibility training, like light yoga, can help to maintain joint range of motion. And massage and NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, can also aid in pain relief and muscle recovery,” he says. Ice can also help to manage pain and swelling, but it’s important to note that it won’t cut down the duration of pain—that’s just gotta run its course.
The Difference Between DOMS and Knots
That other kind of muscle soreness—that “knot” in your back, or perhaps it’s in your neck, can also be exercise related, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes called “myofascial trigger points,” experts believe these develop when a certain muscle is tensed too many times, or for a long duration. This might be due to overuse during workouts, sitting too long, or even bad posture.
Science still hasn’t figured out exactly why muscles get “knots.” Since it’s rare to see a knot show up on a scan, some researchers are convinced they don’t actually exist—at least, not in the physical sense. In a paper published in the journal Rheumatology earlier this year, scientists suggest knots may actually be a neurological phenomenon caused by aggravated nerve endings.
How do you fix it then? The answer is usually massage—intense massage. Work it out with your hands, try unkinking it with a foam roller or therapy ball, or make an appointment for a sports massage. If those tricks don’t work, and the so-called knot persists, see your doctor or a physical therapist for more targeted treatment.
Bottom line: soreness usually works itself out in a matter of days. Just pay attention to your body to know when to lighten up (when you’re hurting) and when to amp it up (when you’re feeling strong again).
Have you ever experienced DOMS? How about knots? Join the conversation below!
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.
13 CommentsLeave a comment
I was getting knots in my left leg quadriceps but found that by using the gym vibration plate, after the treadmill session, cured the problem after a few days.
I know the best online workouts guides. Go to Unflexal and get the best workouts instructions.
I kept getting a knot in my left leg quadriceps, After trying the gyms vibration plate for 2 x 60 seconds at 50hz for a week it cured the problem.
How often you you recommend a good hard massage,no injures, just a bit stiff at times.
How often would you recommend a good hard massage. No injury, just a bit stiff at times.
I did a few super sets on bi and tri the other day, OMG the pain has been terrible the past two days! Arms won’t bend much at all…lol. Headed back now to try and loosen them up with lesser weight. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
How did it turn out?
RIP that guy
So after the pain you become stronger?
Thanks for the information Jenna as I found this to be very informative. I just returned back to the gym after about a 3 month layoff. I really needed that time away from the gym to live and get out of the mindset that “I have to gym”.
I’m an extremely hard worker when I’m doing my regime and the results that I achieve are beautiful. Being 6’3 250 all muscle was absolutely rewarding, I gained so much confidence and strength. I started out at 185lbs and I hit the gym hard for 3 years straight,
always mixing up the routine to keep the workouts challenging and exciting. I saw my body transform and it was enlightening but I worked hard, then harder, and I unlocked my potential. Folks would say you need to enter into some bodybuilding contests or strongman events but I never once considered that or entertained the thought as lifting is a hobby of mine and I have nothing to prove to anyone, I don’t lift for trophies or women, this is about me versus me and noone else.
My genetics are dynamite and in accompaniment with a delicious nutrition program(I love cooking it’s a passion of mine) and consistency in and out of the gym I overachieved my previous goals but I had to just say to myself, take some time away, prove that you’re not addicted to working out and I did that.
So I started running 5 miles a day 5 times a week and in 3 months I lost 50 pounds but I still look great my bodyfat% is right around 6%. The running has now come to an end and 2 days ago was my 1st time back pumping iron. I woke up the beast and man did it feel good. The joy of locking in, being focused on gaining back my pumps was fulfilling. People say you really leaned out, where did all your muscle go, you’re so skinny, but since when has 200lbs been viewed as skinny.
I like to prove to myself that there are no limitations. I can take 3 months off and still my genetics are spot on. Yes I’ve refocused on the task at hand, I’m currently weaker than I’d like but knowing this is the motivation. What a surprise to barely be able to curl 50 pounds on the EZ Curl bar and dumbbell curl 25 pounds that was eye opening and again a beautiful moment. I say this because I know what I’m capable of but the reality of not being where I’m accustomed to being again puts a smile on my face and humbles me while yet enabling me to believe in my strategy. All I know is to #BETHEBEST so believe me when I was struggling with those curls, I loved the fight and intensity that I had to conjure up to finish my reps and sets. My stamina and endurance were nonexistent but again I’m thankful for that as I have motivation to achieve an even better physique, I see it in my mind and I will manifest it into reality through hard work and dedication within the process. Nothing happens overnight besides 1st day soreness”lol”.
So I found your blog and again I just wanted to say “thank you” for being there for me as I reload up on information that ensures my road to success.
You should be careful recommending NSAIDS like ibuprofen to people, as it has been shown to increase inflamation, it has just been given a warnig label by the FDA
Fake news. NSAIDs do not increase inflammation. Real news. They come with risks so consulting a pharmacist or Dr is appropriate.
Thank you, now I know I need to go lighter on the weights today for my legs until they stop feeling sore.
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