What the heck is DOMS?

Alrighty, after a bit of a break, it’s time to get back into breaking down running and fitness.

Today I want to talk about something I’m certain everyone has experienced: DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness.

I’ve been reading through Runner’s World The Runner’s Body: How the Latest Exercise Science Can Help You Run Stronger, Longer, and Faster book over the past few weeks and have learned a lot about exercise physiology.

runners body

One of my biggest takeaways from this book was the cause of DOMS.

Most people (myself included, until recently!) believe DOMS is caused by lactic acid (lactate); however, it’s now believed this isn’t true. The reasoning behind believing lactic acid causes DOMS is as follows:

When you exercise (A) you produce lactate (B). When you exercise (A) you feel sore after (C). Therefore lactate (B) causes muscle soreness (C).

Because A causes B and A also causes C, then B must cause C is how the argument went. Looking at it that way, you can see it’s not an entirely logical statement.

Through a series of studies, it’s now thought DOMS is a result of muscles healing and getting stronger. Running causes eccentric muscle contractions (where the muscle lengthens as it contract, which, when running, also happens when your foot strikes the ground) which causes more muscle damage as the muscles are actually pulled apart when the contraction occurs.

Since running results in structural damages, the next result is the body working to heal the damaged muscles. Like any damage to your body, the first response is inflammation of the damaged tissue, resulting in an increase in blood flow. To simplify the process, the damaged cells are destroyed (by neutrophils and macrophages), then enzymes and oxygen molecules are released which degrades the tissue. However, this degradation isn’t just limited to the damaged tissue, healthy tissue is also affected. When tissue is damaged prostaglandins, histamines and bradykinins are also released and these chemicals are believed to make nerve endings more sensitive to stimulation.

So, on top of being inflamed chemicals are also making nerve ending sensitive. Fun!

BUT – this pain is meant to act as a deterrent from hurting ourselves more. No one wants to go for a long run when it hurts to walk down stairs. Well, at least I don’t!

Once all the damaged cells are cleared away, the body can now repair the damaged muscle with new stronger muscle tissues.

It all kind of sounds like a bit of a buzzkill, right?! Work out – get sore. Here’s the good news: for up to six months after DOMS any subsequent bouts will be significantly less painful.

So, how can you prevent DOMS?

Try to exercise regularly, and when increasing mileage when running, do so slowly. Even as a regular runner, it’s possible to experience DOMS by doing too much, too soon.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that just running will prevent DOMS. I started cross training this week and squats and lunges on Monday made my run on Tuesday awful! Why? Because the muscles engaged in doing squats and lunges are different from those used in running.

What’s the best way to deal with DOMS?

In all honesty, suck it up. There isn’t much that can be done when the body is working on healing. Continuing to move after exercise (like consciously moving after running a race) can help to minimize the effects of DOMS, as can an ice bath (although the research is conflicting on this one).

One thing that you shouldn’t do is take anti-inflammatories. The inflammation in the body is a way of knowing what area of the body should be targeted by the neutrophils and macrophages, and by taking anti-inflammatories this can affect the body’s ability to heal effectively.

(It’s also important to note anti-inflammatories shouldn’t be taken before a run as they can have negative effects on both the liver and kidney’s as blood is diverted away from the organs to the muscles).

All facts are taken from Runner’s World The Runner’s Body: How the Latest Exercise Science Can Help You Run Stronger, Longer, and Faster and not my brain 🙂

Tell me: how do you deal with DOMS?

6 thoughts on “What the heck is DOMS?

    • Noooo!!!!! Bad idea.

      If you want something that’ll prevent muscle fatigue, look into beta-alanine, it’s an amino acid that’ll prevent the hydrogen and nitrogen buildup in your muscles so they won’t fatigue as quickly.

      I take it for my long runs and for races. It might be entirely psycho-somatic, but I’m okay with that 🙂

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