Muscle soreness, a familiar phenomenon to most athletes, has been differentiated into “acute” and “delayed onset.” The etiology of acute muscle soreness has been attributed to ischemia and the accumulation of metabolic by-products. However, the etiology of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is not so clear. Six theories have been proposed: lactic acid, muscle spasm, torn tissue, connective tissue, enzyme efflux, and tissue fluid theories. The treatment of DOMS has also been investigated. Studies in which anti-inflammatory medications have been administered have yielded varying results based on the dosage and the time of administration. Submaximal concentric exercise may alleviate soreness but does not restore muscle function. Neither cryotherapy nor stretching abates the symptoms of DOMS. Transcutaneous electrical stimulation has been shown to decrease soreness and increase range of motion, but the effect on the recovery of muscle function is unknown. Therefore, the treatment of DOMS remains an enigma.
The authors are with Temple University Graduate Athletic Training/Sports Medicine Program, Pearson Hall, Office 129, Philadelphia, PA 19122.