That soreness you're feeling is DOMS – but what is it and, most importantly, can you carry on running?
What is DOMS?
DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is a mild muscle soreness that sets in about six to eight hours after your workout, and is usually at it's most painful around 24-48 hours later.
The good news is the pain tends to settle down around 72 hours later. You may also feel a reduced range of motion or joint stiffness, tenderness, and the feeling that your muscles are a bit weak.
Why do we get DOMS?
DOMS usually occurs when you introduce a new activity or increased intensity of your current workout or run.
The pain you feel is the result of microtrauma to your muscles and connective tissues, causing inflammation. So if you're new to physical activity, you're more likely to feel DOMS as your body starts adapting, but as you build up muscle the soreness will ease.
Despite popular belief, DOMS is not caused by a build-up of lactic acid in your muscles.
When you exercise, your body needs energy, so it breaks down molecules to get it. During your natural metabolic process, your cells become more acidic, which is why when you exercise it can feel like they're burning.
The burning though isn't lactate. Instead, lactate is a by-product of the metabolic process and actually slows down the rate at which cells become acidic. Lactic acid usually clears from your system within 30-60 minutes of working out.
How can I ease the soreness?
Once you start feeling sore, there are a number of ways you can help ease the pain:
- Foam rolling - for more tips and advice on foam rolling see our essential guide
- Alternate between hot and cold showers
- Epsom salt baths
- Increase your protein intake
- Rest and sleep
A sports massage will also help your muscles and promote a quicker recovery. Doing dynamic stretches before and static stretches after you exercise can help stiffness, but won't directly reduce DOMS. Instead, you're better off easing up on your training to ensure you’re not pushing your body too hard.
When do I need to worry?
Despite the common myth, DOMS is nothing to worry about nor is it a sign of a 'hard' or 'good' run or workout, so if you're getting this level of soreness or pain frequently or for a prolonged period it's a bad sign.
In the short term, though, if you're not feeling any relief from pain after around three to four days, you're feeling pain rather the soreness, or if the pain is debilitating, it's probably a good idea to ease up and reassess your training.
If it's pain you're feeling (and it's immediate rather than delayed) it's more likely an injury, so don't ignore it. For more information and how to treat, prevent and recover from the most common running injuries, see here.
Can I still run with DOMS?
If it's been a while since your last rest day, it's probably a good idea to sit back and take a pass on this run, to allow your body to heal and recover.
But if you feel well-rested (not fatigued), then hitting the roads for a few gentle miles could do you good. If after a few minutes you feel OK or about the same, then carry on running, but if the pain or soreness increases early on, it's best to stop and take an extra rest day.