Champions Know Achy Muscles Need Rest

Athletes to be aware of DOMS:

The NBA Championship Finals have recently concluded, and the Golden State Warriors won their fourth title in eight years. Do you ever wonder why it takes almost two weeks to play the best-of-seven series? Why aren’t the games just played on consecutive nights at each home team’s arena?

One reason game days are scheduled apart is so the players’ bodies can recover from delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS). When athletes are exercising at the highest levels, such as when a championship is on the line, they are at risk for experiencing DOMS.

What is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness?

DOMS is simply a well-known physiologic response to heavy exercise. It results in muscle pain, stiffness, and tightness occurring several hours or the day after a workout.

Why Does DOMS Happen?

It is easy to overwork your muscles during an intense heavy workout (i.e., using your muscles to the point of failure or absolute fatigue). Eccentric exercises, where the muscles are lengthening while contracting (think “negative reps,” or landing from a jump) are particularly vulnerable to DOMS.

During the heaviest of workouts, microscopic tears can occur in the muscle fibers and tendons. The fibers, like any cell in the body, contain fluid, organelles, and proteins that can leak out into the remaining muscle tissue when this occurs. This causes swelling and tightness for several hours.

This is true whether you’re a 6-foot-3 guard in the NBA or training for a half-marathon.

These changes are what cause the muscle to adapt and grow under normal exercise conditions. The more intense or heavier you lift, relative to your baseline fitness, the more this process can occur. 

How Does DOMS Differ From Soreness During Exercise?

Acute muscle soreness is the burning sensation you feel in a muscle during a workout due to a quick buildup of lactic acid. It’s the immediate byproduct of working muscles. This type of soreness usually disappears as soon as, or shortly after, you stop exercising – unlike delayed onset muscle soreness.

Remember, DOMS occurs several hours or the next day after an intense workout.

How Do I Treat DOMS?

Your body’s natural healing capabilities will enable you to recover from DOMS, but there are different methods you can use to help you recover faster.

  • Stretching the sore muscles will help the collagen fibers recover their orientation and alignment.
  • Applying icepacks to the sore muscles will reduce swelling and inflammation.
  • Roller massage can help rid the proteins out of the sore muscles.

However, medications are usually not needed to recover from DOMS. Anti-inflammatories (such as Ibuprofen or Naproxen) might even slow down the recovery process.

Can I Still Exercise if I Have DOMS?

If you are feeling the symptoms of DOMS from a previous workout, you can still exercise if you cross-train with other muscle groups or body parts that didn’t cause the DOMS, since active range of motion helps reduce the stiffness.

For example, you might do heavy lifting one day followed by a heavy cardio workout the next day; or you might follow a long running day with a bicycling, swimming, or elliptical day.

Active rest, or cross-training, will help optimize your fitness. Just remember not to train the muscle groups that caused the DOMS if you are still experiencing symptoms.


It is natural to experience soreness the day after intense exercise. Delayed onset muscle soreness is your body’s way of telling you that you are recovering from a heavy workout. In order to derive maximum gains from that workout, you need to rest, recover, or cross-train until the DOMS has subsided.

Dr. Jerome Enad is an accomplished, board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine. He grew up in Stockton and graduated from Lincoln High School before obtaining his bachelor’s degree at UCLA and receiving his medical degree in Bethesda, Md. He has been practicing medicine for over 30 years and lives in Florida with his wife and three dogs. Dr. Enad will be a regularm health and fitness contributor to

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