Experiencing sore muscles after a workout is not uncommon, but if your muscles swell, you might be concerned something is seriously wrong. In most cases, however, the swelling and pain are the result of delayed onset muscle soreness, which is not something that will ultimately harm your body. The symptoms of DOMS typically only last for three to five days, but can last up to seven to 10. If the pain and swelling don't start to dissipate three to four days after the initial onset, consult a doctor.
The pain from DOMS typically sets in 24 to 48 hours after your workout is finished. It typically peaks between 48 and 72 hours afterwards, and can last up to seven days. Swelling will usually set in about the same time as the pain, but will peak three to four days after onset, lingering as long as 10 days. Other symptoms of DOMS can include stiffness, loss of strength and muscle tenderness. Beginners and more seasoned exercisers who push beyond their limits are more prone to getting DOMS; however, once endurance is built up, DOMS usually disappears and doesn't occur again until you increase the intensity of your workout.
The exact cause of DOMS is not clear, but it is known that the pain and other symptoms result from an inflammatory response, possibly caused by microtears in the cells of the muscle. It has also been determined that eccentric exercise — resistance against the lengthening of the muscle — is the primary activity that leads to DOMS. Examples of eccentric exercise include running downhill or lowering a weight, such as when performing a leg or arm curl.
A consistent, effective treatment for DOMS has not been found, but taking some simple self-care measures may offer relief, according to the American Council on Exercise. Taking a hot bath or applying heat may help soothe the pain from DOMS. Massaging the muscles can also help the soreness, albeit only temporarily. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, may help both the pain and swelling. Taking plant-based sitosterols and protease enzymes can help diminish the inflammation from DOMS, which may in turn reduce both the pain and swelling.
The most effective way to avoid the possibility of getting DOMS is by performing a warmup before your workout, according to researchers at the University of New Mexico. A warmup should include both a general warmup that warms your entire body and a more specific warmup that engages the muscles you will be using during your workout. For example, if you were going to lift weights to build your arm muscles, performing 10 minutes of mild cardio exercise, such as jogging, and then moving your arms the way you would during your workout without weights would be an effective overall warmup. Stretching your muscles before and after your workout may also help. If you are a beginner or a more seasoned athlete increasing the intensity of your workout, start slowly and gradually work your way up to more vigorous activity.
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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.