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Muscle soreness beginning 24 to 48 hours after exercise is called DOMS.
Muscle aches and stiffness that occur 24 hours after a workout are caused by delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. Delayed onset muscle soreness results from a series of physiologic and metabolic responses to excessive exertion, especially eccentric exercises, such as weightlifting, running and other exercises that involve lengthening muscles during resistance. Water retention in overworked muscles can result in swelling and pain.
How to Distinguish DOMS From Other Conditions
The fatigue and soreness you feel immediately after exercise is generally caused by lactic acid buildup, which is metabolized while you rest, leaving you soreness-free within an hour or less. Muscle strain can also cause muscle pain, which you will know immediately because discomfort is acute. However, you can develop DOMS during an exercise bout and not be aware of what you've done until a day or two later. For instance, you may feel quite normal, but wake up with sore, achy, stiff and swollen muscles that hurt when you move. Delayed onset of muscle soreness after strenuous exercise is generally characterized by swelling from muscle-healing processes.
Why Your Muscles Swell
During strenuous exercise that lengthens your muscles, tiny tears can occur in your muscle fibers when they are exercised beyond their capacity to stretch. This type of muscle injury causes inflammation, which signals your body's healing response. According to Johndavid Maes and Len Kravitz, Ph.D., in "Treating and Preventing DOMS," metabolic waste products can stimulate nerve endings, resulting in pain. Swelling generally peaks within three to four days of exercise and subsides within 10 days, according to Maes and Kravitz. During this phase, you may experience muscle weakness and a decreased range of motion.
Treatment for Swelling
Massage is an unpredictable treatment that does, in certain situations, reduce swelling, pain and discomfort. However, even when massage reduces pain and swelling in the affected muscles, muscle function is not immediately restored, according to the article "Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness" on the Sports Fitness Advisor website. Increasing circulation from mild exercise can speed the healing process, according to "Sore Loser" by Kermit Pattison. But don't be surprised if it takes two weeks before your strength is back to normal.
DOMS and Water Retention Prevention
You can prevent water retention and other symptoms of DOMS by warming up before a workout. Maes and Kravitz recommend a two-phase warm-up, beginning with large-muscle exercises, such as light aerobics, running in place or calisthenics, to increase your core body temperature, increase muscle flexibility and reduce muscle viscosity. Follow the general warm-up with specific exercises for the muscles you plan to work during your strenuous workout or sports activity. Use lighter weights or perform other movements similar to the movements of the muscle-building workout to ensure the muscles that you plan to work hardest are thoroughly warmed up and relaxed.