"I woke up this am unable to walk. My legs were stiff and achy and just putting weight on my feet was too much…As I got moving, this pain went away but just touching the muscles still hurts. I put on some calf sleeves and went out for a run. They felt sizably better, until I got home and sat for a bit. Now they are back to where they were this am. Is exercising with DOMS bad?!"
This is a common question. We often use specific muscles harder than others on specific training periods- this will lead to muscle pain and soreness that may get WORSE as the days go on. What IS the deal with training with DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and can you hurt yourself by playing through its symptoms?
Everything you need to know about DOMS.
DOMS is most likely the cumulative effect of micro trauma, inflammation and the body trying to protect itself. Occurring on a micro scale within your muscle belly itself DOMS is not as we previously believed, a build up of lactic acid. Instead it is thought to be the actual over-stretching of the muscle fibers themselves in conjunction with a build up of inflammation.
1. Tear theory.
Occurring upon elongation of the muscle, the mechanical theory (Theodore Hough, 1902) is that the muscle gets tiny tears along a certain line in a bundle of muscle fibers. the Z line of a sarcomere. The sarcomere is just a fancy word for a bundle of muscle fibers. His belief is that the fibers are damaged as they elongate along a specific line that is stretched only during elongation.
2. Enzyme Related Pain.
The second theory is that an ‘enzyme efflux’ occurs in which inflammation builds up in response to cell damage causing further protein breakdown. Too much calcium dumped from damaged muscles fibers now causes more muscle protein damage as the bodies enzymes start repairing the region by breaking down muscle proteins. This makes sense why it might take so long for pain and soreness to occur. the interesting thing is that the amount of pain felt has no bearing on the amount of muscle that is damaged. This means it can hurt a LOT and you might only have slight damage or micro trauma to your actual muscle fibers.
3. It could possibly be the body protecting itself from further damage as the region also has less strength,
A muscle only injury, DOMS is thought to be caused by activities that activate the muscle while it is in an elongated length. This means NOT when the muscle is contracting and shortening, but when it is asked to hold tone while it is under a great deal of elongation (or stretch).
These muscles are more often than not, our supporting muscles while a task is completed. For example, your hamstring is more likely to be injured while elongating than contracting. With this said, moving off of a heel hook is more dangerous for a muscle tear or DOMS than moving onto one. Pushing off a mantel is harder on the tricep but attaining the position is more likely to cause DOMS.
Climbers feel DOMS immediately after and following bumps in intensity and/or volume in which the muscle is used in an elongated position. In my case, a long day climb on slab is a perfect setup for DOMS. You might be more likely to feel it in your
lats (armpit region), the forearms, or in the case of a new climber, between the bones of the hand.
Usually felt up to 12 hours after exercise, the feeling of aching, stiffness and pain can last for up to 7 days, most commonly getting worse until the 48 or 72 hour mark. Examples would be weight lifting- where you feel great once you leave, but then your forearms are sore and tender the next day and even worse the following day.
Additional Research Findings:
Luckily for us, research shows that working out while experiencing DOMS will NOT cause more injury. There has NOT been a link between amount of tissue damage and level of pain. As usual, let you body tell you what it will allow and stay in this safe range. The good news is that the body rebuilds itself to reinforce this tissue. We just need to give it time to heal.