Muscular Strain: Going Beyond DOMS

When do you cross the line from Muscular Fatigue, to Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and sometimes jump right in to Muscular Strain?

 We have all had muscular fatigue, when you simply cannot complete that final rep.  Nothing left in the tank if you will.  DOMS is again something that I am sure we are all familiar with, that ache you get the day after, or even the ‘day after, the day after’ you have worked out hard.  It doesn’t necessarily stop you functioning and can even improve after further exercise.  Muscular strain is a completely different kettle of fish.  Yes there may be pain or ache but what is more pronounced is the lack of force that muscle of group of muscle or even more extreme the inability to contract that muscle at all.  Lets take a quick look at how you can identify what is going on for you and how you can take the right approach to address each.

Muscular Fatigue

 There are two main types of fatigue – Neurological and Metabolic.  If we take the neurological aspects, in order for our muscles to contract and relax various messages are sent to and from the neuromuscular junction from the central nervous system to control movement.   In the case of neurological diseases/disorders these messages can be impacted e.g. Motor Neuron Disease, MS (Multiple Sclerosis), Parkinsons etc. Even if you do not have a neurological disorder you can get episodes of neurological fatigue sometimes called Central Fatigue.  Little is known as to the cause of this but it is though that nutrition and serotonin levels have an impact in the healthy population.

 More commonly what we experience during and after exercises is Metabolic Fatigue.  Along with involvement from the nervous system a number of ingredients are needed in the reactions that cause movement.  If these ingredients deplete and are not available this will impact the ability for these reactions to occur but so too will the involvement of waste products (substrates), which if they flood the muscle fibre will interfere with the reaction being able to take place.  Calcium, Phosphates, Oxygen and Glucose are key.  If you run out of the above, you have a problem.

 Nutrition is important, but so too is oxygen supply.  Yes we all breathe but what is your breathing quality like?  Today we have become a nation of upper body breathers leaving the giants of breathe, the diaphragm and abdominals to languish with under use.   Your muscles require a lot of oxygen to create the energy to produce muscular contraction, it is also needed to help clear up the toxins produced as a by product of this reaction e.g. lactic acid.  If you are not getting sufficient oxygen to your blood stream e.g. being out of breath and pushing through that final set of lifts are you therefore depriving your muscles of the ability to be as strong as they can be?  Also are you increasing your chances of aching for days afterwards?  Catch your breath, pace yourself and give your muscles what they need to push hard.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

 So let’s step beyond the workout.  You completed the workout without fatigue but you wake up 12/24 hours later and everything hurts.  You can barely walk down the stairs. Welcome to the world of DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness.    There are many anecdotal proposals as to what causes DOMS from lactic acid build up, to dehydration.    There has been no evidence that neuorological inhibition (R2) or changes to the motor unit activation (R3) which leads current thinking to believe that is it is actually caused by micro-damage within the muscle itself, the pain and stiffness felt is likely to be the inflammatory response triggered by this damage.

 Generally DOMS are felt when you start new exercises, or increase your load/duration by too much too soon (remember the rule of 10…. aim to increase load or duration by no more than 10% per week).  In terms of getting rid of it, you should suffer from it less as you get used to the exercises, reduce your load and follow a training plan the increases your load & duration more reasonably.  As useful that is, what can you do once you are suffering?  Well once again research is very grey here, with inconsistent results on traditional treatments.  My view, give each one a try and see what works for you until science finds us the definitive solution:

  • Massage
  • Ice Baths
  • Heat
  • Stretching
  • Active Recovery

In ‘breaking news’  a study in 2015 (R4) has shown that using Kinesio Tape for muscle activation is more effective in preventing DOMS than rest alone.  I am a big fan of kinesio taping, but cannot image us taping our whole bodies to help with DOMS, what is more realistic is that we use it to help the muscles that we know are having firing or endurance issues to help prevent DOMS and pain while we work on correcting the underlying problem.

 Muscular Strain

 Now we get to the nitty gritty, when do you know that you have gone beyond DOMS and into the realm of muscle strain?  What if its rest and rehabilitation you need, but you are convinced its DOMS and are working that very active Active Recovery?  Redness, swelling, acute pain on contraction, inability for muscle to contract are all symptoms of muscle strain.  Unlike DOMS the pain generally starts straight after injury so straight after or during your workout.  The pain may improve over the next 48/72 hours but lingers around, potentially with accompanying weakness or partial loss of function.  This is not to be mistaken by DOMS.  Get assessed, treated and rehabilitated to get back to your best as quickly as possible.  Continuing to train on a strained muscle can prevent healing, encourage re-injury or cause greater levels of damage.  IN addition, our bodies compensate.  We are masters of cheating the body, something doesn’t work, we will just use something else which could lead to greater problems further down the line.  As for healing, it takes time.  Check out my blogs on the healing process:



 All in all what I would like you to take from this is to Listen to your body.  Look after your body.  Nourish it well, treat it  and keep it strong.

 Related Links/References

R1 – Serotonin and central nervous system fatigue: nutritional considerations1,2 –

R2 – . MCHUGH, M.P., D.A.J. CONNOLLY, R.G. ESTON, AND G.W. GLEIM. Electromyographic analysis of exercise resulting in symptoms of muscle damage. J. Sports Sci. 18:163–172. 2000.

R3 – SAYERS, S.P., C.A. KNIGHT, P.M. CLARKSON, E.H. VAN WEGEN, AND G. KAMEN. Effect of ketoprofen on muscle function and sEMG after eccentric exercise. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 33:702– 710. 2001.

R4 -The effects of kinesio taping on architecture, strength and pain of muscles in delayed onset muscle soreness of biceps brachii.

1 Comments on “Muscular Strain: Going Beyond DOMS”

  1. It’s basically stretching or tearing of a muscle or a tissue connecting muscle to the tendon.
    Muscle Strains often occur in the lower back and the muscle in the back of the thigh.
    But the way you have provided detailed tips, opinions, and discussions about the
    Muscle Strain is imperative. Reading this post will make everyone feel better about the muscle Strain.


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