DOMS: What is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness?

Photo by Cristian Baron on Unsplash


DOMS stands for delayed onset muscle soreness. It refers to the muscular pain or tenderness that develops 24-48 hours after strenuous or unfamiliar exercise, peaking in intensity 1-3 days post workout.


DOMS is caused by microscopic tears to muscle fibers (particularly with eccentric contractions), inflammation, swelling, and sensitization of nociceptors. Soreness is usually most pronounced where the muscle attaches to bone.

DOMS may reduce strength and range of motion temporarily but the discomfort is benign and subsides within 72 hours as the muscles regenerate and adapt. Light activity aids recovery by increasing blood flow.


DOMS commonly occurs after:

  • New training programs, especially with eccentric emphasis
  • Sudden increases in volume, load, or intensity
  • Unaccustomed exercises and activities like downhill running
  • Returning to training after a layoff period


  • Rhabdomyolysis – severe muscle breakdown; A condition caused by damage to skeletal muscle resulting in the release of muscle cell contents into the blood.
  • Myalgia – Muscle pain or ache. This can be a symptom of rhabdomyolysis.
  • Eccentric contractions – A type of muscle contraction where the muscle lengthens under tension. Eccentric exercises can cause microtrauma that contributes to rhabdomyolysis.
  • Microtrauma – Small scale damage to muscle fibers and connective tissue. Repeated microtrauma from intense exercise can lead to rhabdomyolysis.


  • Does lactic acid cause DOMS? No, lactic acid dissipates soon after exercise. Muscle damage and inflammation cause the delayed pain.
  • Are there treatments for DOMS? Massage, light activity, anti-inflammatories, and icing may provide modest relief but time is the main healer.
  • Is training with DOMS OK? Unless very severe, continuing to work out moderately can aid recovery.


  • Muscle cramps – Painful spasms during activity due to electrolyte imbalance, not post-workout soreness.
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