Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
Delayed muscle soreness or what medicine calls Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is not your imagination. This is muscle soreness that is felt hours or days after strenuous exercise that you are not accustomed too. It could be a result of a new exercise or activity, or increased intensity of the usual activity.
What Causes DOMS?
One theory is that micro trauma of the muscle fibers results in soreness, another theory suspects it is from the healing process. Either way it can hurt. If the pain is severe enough you may even have misinterpreted is as a muscle strain. But take heart…it usually just means you are getting stronger. The soreness will peak between 24-72 hours after the exercise as this is when the body is healing the muscle tissue. The soreness will disappear 2-10 days before complete functional recovery.
When you were in your 20’s and 30’s you may have experienced DOMS the next day, but as we age, DOMS may not show up until 2-3 days after the exercise. Studies do support delayed muscle recovery and repair in exercises over age 50 years old. This would mean that you don’t even feel the soreness until 3 or more days after your exercise. If this is you, don’t worry about it! This is just another indication of our changing bodies at mid-life! If this is you, don’t fret, just keep going as this pain is not necessarily indicating that damage is being done.
Is it DOMS?
As we age, we should not chalk up muscle pain to a DOMS without regard to more serious conditions. While, DOMS, is a benign condition, how do you tell if it is more serious? You should be concerned if there was a specific “ouch” moment, that was followed by immediate swelling, pain, or loss of function. If you are unable to move the extremity or if there is a deformity. Any numbness or tingling or inability to move the fingers or toes of the extremity involved warrants further immediate investigation. And of course, if there was an obvious trauma.
How to Manage DOMS
You can manage delayed onset muscle soreness with rest. Rest can mean not using that muscle group for 1-2 days or decreasing the intensity. You may also ice the area and use a nonsteroidal inflammatory like ibuprofen per the bottle recommendation. Applying Arnica externally has been supported by studies to decrease pain if used immediately after the exercise and applied for 96 hours post activity can help decrease pain while not affecting the functioning of the muscle. Studies show that if it is simple DOMS, movement of the affected muscles is a great way to improve it, just do it more less intensely.
Don’t let delayed onset muscle soreness interfere with you continued movement plan. Plan for DOMS by having arnica on hand if you have an intense work out planned or are starting a new work out program. Use anti-inflammatory medicines sparingly as it may delay the healing and alternate the muscles that you work out!
Exercise after age 40 can improve your health and reduce your risk of many lifestyle related illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
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Good reads (and they happen to be two of my references)
© 2008 Human Kinetics, Inc. The Effect of Aging on Skeletal-Muscle Recovery From Exercise: Possible Implications for Aging Athletes journals.humankinetics.com/doi/pdf/10.1123/japa.16.1.97
The effects of topical arnica on performance, pain and muscle damage after intense eccentric exercise. https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2013.829126