Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is the muscle pain that you will experience one to three days after beginning a workout program or improving it. DOMS is the first positive sign of muscle adaptation. During your workout, tiny microscopic tears in muscle fibers occur that cause muscle pain. Immediately after your workout, your body goes to work to repair those torn muscle fibers by increasing their width and adding more individual fibers to the muscle that you exercised. Therefore, these adaptations allow you to increase your endurance and become stronger. However, you must know the difference between healthy muscle aches and muscle pain that should be of concern.

Workout Burn

This is the burn that you feel during your workout. This healthy burn is caused by lactic acid, which is the byproduct of muscle metabolism.

Tips:

– This burn should only last a few seconds to a few minutes after each set, and can be used as the timer to let you know when to begin the next set.
– Good breathing can help reduce the build up of lactic acid, thus allowing you to exercise more.
– According to a recent article by researchers at The Mayo Clinic (The Journal of Physiology 2008, 586: 35-44), your body adapts over time to this burn, and gradually increases the amount of lactic acid that you can handle for each workout you perform.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

The discomfort you may feel from DOMS is less like a burn, and more like an achy, soreness that you will feel 1-3 days after a workout.

Tips:
– Take a day off resistance exercise between workouts. That day of rest is absolutely important for muscle recovery and re-growth. You should never workout the same muscle groups on two consecutive days.
– Performing FAST PACE or other cardiovascular exercise on your off days is beneficial.
– On your next scheduled workout day, perform lightweight workouts if you are still sore.
– The Cochrane Database reports no proven benefit of stretching to prevent or relieve DOMS (Cochrane Database 2007, 4).

Musculoskeletal Injury

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On rare occasions, severe damage to your muscles, tendons, ligaments or bone may occur. Damage to the musculoskeletal system can cause an excruciating pain to the point where you can no longer use that part of your body to maintain your daily tasks. A musculoskeletal injury can also be associated with an acute pain at the time of injury, a pop that you heard or felt or a feeling that something tore. You can usually point directly to the area that is giving you the problem.

Tips:
– If the onset is sudden, go to the Emergency Room, or to your doctor for evaluation and treatment. In the mean time, rest the injured body part, apply ice (20 minutes on, 20 minutes off) throughout the day, and elevate the painful area above your heart to reduce swelling.
– Use proper techniques to prevent injury, work out with a partner and slowly increase your exercise intensity over time.

Herbert RD, de Noronha M. Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD004577. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004577.pub2.