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Muscle Soreness

Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team

Updated on

This article contains self-care information for the selected condition. If you have questions or need more comprehensive treatment advice, please consult a medical professional.

What is delayed muscle soreness?

Delayed muscle soreness or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is muscle pain that occurs following strenuous exercise.

It usually occurs after a first workout of a novice trainee, exercise of an untrained muscle, an unusual and very intense workout, or an experienced trainee resuming exercise after a long break.

Symptoms include muscle pain, tenderness, stiffness, fatigue, swelling and cramps, alongside limited movement of the affected body part.

Diagnosis is based on a doctor observing the symptoms.

Treatment can include rest, massage and warm and cold baths. Anti-inflammatory drugs can also help.

Symptoms will usually disappear within a week.

If you think you or a beloved one may be experiencing symptoms of muscle soreness, try the free Ada app for a quick health assessment.

What causes muscle soreness?

During and after an unusually intense workout, the following are believed to occur within the muscle 1 2:

  • high tension and microscopic injuries
  • increased body temperature that makes these injuries more likely
  • inflammatory reaction initiated by the injuries
  • disorganization of the blood flow causing less oxygen being supplied to muscles
  • spastic contractions as a result of this reduced oxygen
  • adaptation through remodeling, adding to the pain.

The condition is more likely to happen: 2

  • to the arm muscles more than the leg muscles
  • to the long muscles like quadriceps in the tight or biceps in the arm
  • if the exercise implies a lot of rotative movements
  • if the exercise uses only one joint.

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Symptoms of muscle soreness

Symptoms of delayed muscle soreness usually occur 12 to 24 hours after an intense workout. These are: 1 3 4

  • muscle pain
  • muscle tenderness
  • muscle stiffness
  • limited range of motion of the affected body part
  • muscle fatigue
  • muscle swelling
  • muscle cramps

Do these symptoms sound familiar? Try Ada to find out more.


Health professionals rely on symptoms to establish the diagnosis. Muscle soreness and tenderness that happen after an intense workout contribute to confirming the diagnosis. Other conditions should be ruled out as well. But lab tests and imagery are usually not required for the diagnosis of delayed muscle soreness.

Treatment of delayed onset muscle soreness

The treatment of sore muscles aims to reduce the pain. Muscle soreness relief is achieved through: 2 5

  1. Rest
  • prevents pain from worsening through activity and gives the muscle time to heal.
  1. Massage of the affected muscle
  • can effectively ease pain and stiffness, and restore flexibility. Physiotherapists or massage specialists use dedicated techniques to treat DOMS.
  1. Warm bath
  • increases blood circulation. It can help to get rid of muscle soreness by helping to bring more oxygen to the damaged muscle.
  1. Cold bath
  • cold has a painkiller effect and can reduce muscle swelling.
  1. Anti-inflammatory drugs like Aspirin or Naproxen.

Preventing sore muscles

A few methods can be effective in preventing delayed muscle soreness: 6

Before working out

  • body massage
  • warm-up

During working out

  • wear compression gear
  • start new exercises gently and gradually

Shortly after working out

  • active recovery through gentle biking or walking
  • body massage
  • immersion in warm water
  • immersion in cold water


Symptoms usually disappear within 4 days, but it can take up to a week. The condition generally poses no complication and full recovery is expected. Exercise can be resumed after the healing process is complete.