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D.O.M.S Treatment Guide

by Patty Weasler, RN August 12, 2021 0 Comments

Woman using foam roller

There are several DOMS treatments that can lessen your pain and encourage muscle recovery so you can continue exercising. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to experience delayed onset muscle soreness, more commonly known as DOMS. This muscle pain typically starts 12 to 24 hours after a workout and peaks somewhere between one to three days after. While DOMS can be a normal response to a tough workout, the pain and stiffness are no treat. Keep reading for more tips on treating DOM symptoms.

Best DOMS Treatment Tips

DOMS is different from the muscle pain you feel immediately after a workout. This type of muscle soreness happens after an intense workout that involves eccentric exercise. Think of a physical activity that requires you to tense your muscle as you lengthen them. Check out our best DOMS treatment tips and how you can incorporate them into your workout recovery.

Massage Relief

Massage is well-known for reducing tension, working out muscle knots, and improving blood flow to muscle tissue. For people with DOMS, massage can provide pain relief and reduce muscle stiffness. The pressure on the muscles will reduce inflammation within the muscles and lactic acid build up. Here are a few types of massage you can use in the comfort of your own home.

  • Percussion Massage

    A percussion massage tool is great to dig deep into your muscles post-workout. These massagers can break up adhesions and scar tissue while releasing tension and knots. This drill-looking tool has also been found to possibly prevent DOMS. Start with focusing on a small area of the body, only allowing the massager to stay in the same sport for a few seconds. Move on if you feel pain or are experiencing significant redness.

  • Self Massage

    Using self massage the first few days after an intense exercise can reduce the symptoms of DOMS. You can use massage tools like a foam roller or lacrosse ball to push into your muscles and release tension. When you start massaging, begin away from the core of your body and move inward. So if you are massaging your legs, start massaging your lower leg and move up towards your thighs. This encourages fluid to move in the right direction.

    Tips for Self Massage

  • TENS Units

    A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator (TENS) unit is a device that delivers an electrical impulse through cords to an adhesive patch. The patch is placed over the affected muscle area and can help minimize pain from DOMS. DOMS is most helpful when used for 30 minutes during light activity as opposed to when you are sitting around. Try a TENS unit device post-exercise to get that much needed relief.

    Choosing the Right TENS Unit

Hot & Cold Therapy

Hot and cold therapy is a popular treatment choice in sports medicine for good reasons. It can be done just about anywhere, doesn’t require special equipment, and is medication-free. Here’s a little more about each type of therapy.

  • Cold Therapy

    Cold therapy, also called cryotherapy, uses cold to help the muscles and tissue recover faster. When cold therapy is used after a workout or during DOMS it will numb the pain and lessen tissue swelling. Place ice packs or even take an ice bath for the first few days after you feel sore. Use cold therapy for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Avoid putting an ice pack directly on your skin to avoid skin injury.

  • Heat Therapy

    Heat therapy couldn’t be more different than cold therapy but it’s just as useful. Heat encourages blood flow to the area and soothes muscle soreness. It’s a great treatment for DOMS when your muscles are stiff and it feels hard to even move. Use a heating pad or even a warm towel over the areas that feel sore. As great as heat is, stay away from it if you have any bruising because heat will only make it worse.

    When to Apply Heat

  • Alternating Hot & Cold

    Heat and cold are both excellent treatments and when you combine them you can really reap the benefits of these therapies. Alternating hot and cold will reduce inflammation, loosen tight muscles, stimulate circulation, which will all ultimately reduce your pain.

    Learn About Alternating Hot and Cold Therapy

Compression Therapy

Wearing a compression device after eccentric exercise is one way to reduce inflammation and can lessen the symptoms of DOMS. After you work out, wearing a compression sleeve is an easy to put on compression device that applies constant pressure over your limb. Another option is to use an elastic bandage. These bandages will give you adequate compression but are more time consuming to put on and take off.

What is Compression Therapy?

Topical Pain Cream

Topical analgesics are gel or lotion based products that temporarily alleviate pain. The pain cream is applied to the skin and can ease the pain with a cooling or warming sensation. While these products won’t completely solve DOMS they can reduce the symptoms to make it easier to move around while you heal.

Foam Rolling

Foam rolling is a type of myofascial release, it can reduce inflammation, improve your range of motion, and lessen muscle pain and soreness. Grab a foam roller and place it on the ground. Place your sore muscle on top of the roller and apply body pressure against it. Slowly move over, going back and forth to let the foam roller press deep into the muscle fibers to release tension.

Learn more about foam rolling specific muscle groups below:


Gently stretching before and after an intense workout can reduce the discomfort of DOMS. Focus your stretching on the muscle groups that received the greatest workout and slowly take your body through the movements. If you begin to feel any sharp pain, stop stretching. If you are particularly tight a stretch strap can help you achieve a nice deep stretch even if you can’t reach too far.

Cool Down After Exercise

Performing a proper cool down after a tough exercise is just as important as warming up. Focus on getting your heart rate and blood pressure back to pre-exercise levels. Take a walk and perform a few stretches that target the muscles your body just used.

Pace Yourself

One of the best ways to treat DOMS is to prevent it from even happening. An occasional strenuous exercise can feel great but you need to slowly build up to that level and pace yourself. Endurance that you’re not typically used to can cause muscle damage and injury. Before your workout, warm-up with a brisk walk or active stretching to get your blood pumping and muscles primed for a healthy workout.

Get Moving on a Rest Day

Sore muscles will make you want to take a rest day but remaining sedentary will only increase pain and stiffness. Avoid high-intensity workouts and weight-lifting but with DOMS you should keep your body moving. Go for a walk or pull out the yoga mat and work through some gentle positions. This active recovery will help your muscle function and healing.

Adequate Diet

Another way to treat DOMS is to ensure your diet is full of nutrients that encourage muscle tissue healing. The easiest way to know that you are getting all the vitamins and minerals you need is to “eat the rainbow”. Your plate should contain a variety of colors which will all help your body recover from DOMS. Potassium, calcium, protein, and even carbohydrates are important in repairing muscles and lessening your recovery time.

Reduce Your DOMS

DOMS is a type of muscle soreness that starts one to two days after an intense workout and lasts for several days. It can be so intense that some people avoid as much movement as possible and even stop exercising. But it doesn’t need to be that way, effective treatments include massage, stretching, and ice packs. If you have any concerns about your DOMS and if the pain you are feeling is normal reach out to your doctor or physical therapist.




Patty Weasler, RN
Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.

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