What causes muscle soreness after working out?

The following article is from the Canadian Chiropractic Association website. Author: CCA Staff Team

You may have heard the expression, “no pain, no gain” when it comes to embarking on a fitness journey, but have you ever wondered why certain forms of exercise result in pain in the form of muscle soreness?

The technical term for muscle soreness after exercise is DOMS, which stands for delayed-onset muscle soreness. Besides feeling sore, this term also encompasses experiencing reduced range of motion and muscle strength. You will usually experience this 24-48 hours after you try new activities/exercises or increase the intensity of your workout. While DOMS can seem similar to trigger points, trigger points are different in that they are a type of muscle soreness that are the result of an overused muscle and feel more like a “knot” in the muscle.

There is a myth that DOMS is caused by lactic acid build-up. However, lactic acid lasts in your muscles only 1-2 hours after finishing a workout, so that’s not the likely cause. Resistance training causes micro-tears of muscle fibers, which draws increased blood flow and inflammation to the area (you may even notice some mild swelling), which stimulates the pain receptors in the muscle cell and makes them more sensitive to movement. The muscle damage is temporary, and as the muscle rebuilds itself as a response to this process, it gets stronger and can handle heavier loads.

How to deal with DOMS?

Although DOMS is a natural process that indicates that your body is getting stronger, there are some things you can do at home to reduce the discomfort. Here are some tips:

  • Prevent DOMS by doing longer warm ups before your resistance training.
  • Take an Epsom salt bath. Epsom salts are high in magnesium, which help promote muscle relaxation and improved circulation.
  • Do a gentle workout such as light cardio or stretching and yoga the day or two after an intense workout. Pick up the intensity again after the pain is gone.

Did you know your chiropractor can help you with injury prevention? See your community chiropractor to learn more.


1Everything you need to know about delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Lifecare Cottesloe Physiotherapy. . Published October 24, 2017. Accessed March 1, 2018.

2What causes muscle soreness after exercising. Today I Found Out. . Published August 6, 2010. Accessed March 1, 2018.

3Feeling sore 2 days after working out? Here’s why. Fitbit Blog. . Published November 6, 2015. Accessed March 1, 2018.
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