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Is that pain DOMS or an injury?

Exercise Science
Article by : Jaideep Bhide

It’s happened to almost every single one of us: You’ve been killing every single workout, perhaps for months, maybe even years. But then, one day, you wake up and you’re in pain. So much pain, in fact, that you can barely move. So you take a day off from the gym hoping to resume the next day. But come morning and the pain still hasn’t gone away. You try to dismiss the pain as muscle soreness. But wait a minute – what if it’s something more serious? Could it be an injury? How do you tell the difference? Let’s find out. The Basics Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is a very distinctive pain in the muscles that is felt anywhere from 12 hours to 72 hours. As the name suggests, the muscle pain is experienced not immediately after the movement but after a delay of a few hours. The cause of the pain is micro tears that form in the worked upon muscle. Usually, the first day of pain is the worst and it gradually subsides. An injury, on the other hand, is usually intense and immediate. There is no respite from this pain and certainly no delay as it attacks you as soon as you have injured yourself. Ask anyone who’s ever broken a bone or torn a ligament – you WILL know immediately that something is wrong! However, there are some injuries which aren’t apparent as soon as you suffer them and that can complicate things. As a general rule of thumb, DOMS tends to be a dull ache that is experienced after a delay of some hours which eventually goes away while an injury tends to be acute, immediate and much more localized. Did You Know? DOMS is also known as “Muscle Fever” because that’s exactly how you feel: slow, sluggish and sore Causes For the novice, DOMS is almost always guaranteed after he starts working out for the first time or after a gap. The newness of the movement and the fact that the body still isn’t strong enough to withstand loads are likely causes. But even an experienced lifter can feel DOMS after he’s done vigorous exercise or tried a new and unfamiliar workout for the first time. Injuries are almost always due to one or both of the following reasons: Improper form Excessive Load Prevention and Treatment There’s very little one can do to prevent DOMS. Assuming that your form is correct, a new lifter will tend to experience soreness. The important thing is to not get bogged down by it and certainly not stop your workouts. Push through the soreness (but not too much). DOMS usually doesn’t need any medical intervention or treatment. Some rest and perhaps an over-the-counter painkiller do the trick. Cold compresses, ointments and massages are other recommended therapies. Injuries, on the other hand, need immediate medical attention. If neglected, they could lead to debilitation and prove negatively life-altering. You know it’s an injury when: The pain is felt immediately after the muscle movement It is intense and sharp The pain is localized/restricted to a particular area of the body The affected part suddenly feels weak and you’re unable to move it properly Function is hampered in the affected body part There are a few things that athletes must do if they want to avoid getting injured: Proper warm-ups before exercise – Don’t even think of starting your workout without an extensive warm-up. You can’t just go to gym and immediately start pumping iron. Form is EVERYTHING – Lack of good form isn’t just stopping you from making muscle gains but it could very well derail your lifting career. The body, its tendons and joints have been designed to move only in certain ways. Don’t get your workout tips from Instagram Athletes – I’d trust their knowledge of human physiology as far as I can throw them. No Ego Lifting – After improper form, this must be the most common cause of injuries. Stop showing off and stop kidding yourself. “Rome wasn’t built in a day but it was built every single day.” With weight lifting and exercise, always play the long game. Your favourite athletes didn’t become great overnight – they took their time and worked at it, day after day. Follow a good workout plan, periodize it and concentrate on building strength. That’s how you stay injury-free. Stretch it baby! – You’re probably too tired or too hurried after a workout to cool down but that’s exactly what you should be doing. If you’ve lifted weights during your workout (and you really should), you’ve put your body through some stress and it needs some TLC to recover. You don’t always need Foam Rollers. Some full body stretches will do the trick, with special attention to stretches performed on the body part that you’ve just worked upon. Time Out! – Injuries can occur even after taking all possible precautions. In that case, stop working out for a while. Toss the machismo and take time out to rest and recuperate instead. DOMS is seen almost like a rite of passage for the new lifter. Once you’ve felt that pain and overcome it, you know you’ve crossed over to a new level in your training and you’re open to new challenges. But an injury is a whole different ballgame. It must be seen as urgent and critical and treated with great care and caution. While prevention is certainly better than cure, don’t dwell on it too much if you have suffered an injury. Instead, concentrate on recovery so that you can bounce back stronger and better than before.
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