Feeling the after-effects of that workout? Get your foam roller at the ready!

It’s the day after leg day and walking down the stairs feels like mission impossible. Sound familiar? You’re probably dealing with delayed onset muscle soreness (also known as DOMS).

What is DOMS?

When you start a new exercise regime (like Couch to 5K), or increase the intensity of your usual workouts, it’s totally normal for your muscles to feel achy.

This is because when your body works in a different way, your muscle fibres go through microscopic damage. Don’t panic, though – this is all part of the process that will lead to better strength as your muscles recover and build.

How long does DOMS last for?

Whether it’s mild, severe or somewhere in-between, muscle soreness usually shows up one or two days after exercising and lasts anywhere between three and five days. 

Can I exercise with DOMS?

As long as you’re sure the pain you’re experiencing is DOMS (and not a strain) you should be okay to continue exercising. If you’re struggling to get going, it might be a good idea to take a rest day or focus on exercises that target less achy muscles.

DOMS versus strains

It’s important to remember that muscle pain isn’t always down to DOMS, it could also be caused by a muscle strain.

While DOMS tends to appear a day or two after exercising, strain pain is usually felt straight away or very shortly after your activity.

Loved science at school? You might remember that your muscles are made up of a band of fibres. These fibres relax and tighten to make you move, but if you stretch a muscle past its normal range, or make it work too hard too fast, you could experience a strain.

Unlike DOMS, you might get swelling, bruising, muscle spasms and be unable to put weight on the area. If you think your muscle soreness is down to a strain, you’ll need to follow RICE therapy – that stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. You can read all about it on the NHS site here.

Most strains will feel better after two weeks, but severe strains could take months to get back to normal. See your GP if you’re worried.

DOMS versus joint pain

Joint pain is a super common problem with many possible causes, but it's usually a result of injury or arthritis, rather than upping the intensity of your workouts. We’ve got bags of information about joint pain over here.

Top tips for sore muscles

The bad news? You can’t totally prevent muscle soreness. The good news? There are plenty of things you can do to help ease the pain and speed up the recovery process. 

Gently does it

If you’re beginning a new exercise programme, it’s all too tempting to dive straight in at the deep end. Try to start gently and gradually, giving your muscles time to adapt.

Preparation is key

Although there’s not much evidence that warming up will prevent DOMS, exercising with warmed-up muscles will improve your performance and reduce your chance of injury. After all, no one wants to be sat on the sidelines with a pulled hammy!

Stretch it out

From thigh stretches to calf stretches, it's thought that stretching will help you cool down gradually, improve your flexibility and prevent injury. Here's how to stretch after exercising.

Just roll with it

Love it or hate it, it’s thought that foam rolling can improve muscular performance, as well as reducing muscle fatigue and soreness. Foam rollers are available in all shapes, sizes and textures depending on your preference. 

Rest up

If you’re serious about your training, you need to be serious about your recovery, too. There’s no hard and fast rule for how many rest days you should be taking each week, but just make sure you’re listening to your body.


As well as feeling groggy the next day, skimping on shut-eye can make it harder for your body to recover from exercise. We should all be aiming to clock seven to nine hours in the land of nod. If you’re struggling, head this way for six expert-approved tips.

Drink up

We all know that hydration is key, but did you know that it can actually help to fuel your muscles and promote recovery? You’ll need to stay hydrated before, during and after your workouts, so it’s a great idea to get clued up on all-things-sports-hydration. Here’s what the NHS have to say

At-home treatments for muscle aches

Whether it’s a case of DOMS or a pesky strain, here are four great options to help ease your pain.

Boots Ibuprofen 200mg Tablets, 16 tablets

A handy painkiller for a whole range of aches, pains and inflammation, Boots’ Ibuprofen can help to ease muscle soreness. Always read the label. Don’t take ibuprofen for 48 hours after a strain as it may slow down healing. 

Boots Muscle Pain Relief Cream, 35g

Suitable for use before or after exercise, Boots’ Relief Cream helps ease muscular pain and stiffness. Oh, and it’s non-greasy – that’s always a bonus! Always read the label.

Boots Freeze Gel, 100ml

When massaged onto the skin, Boots’ non-oily Freeze Gel relaxes tired and aching muscles. Bliss!

Boots Direct to Skin Heat Patch, 4 patches

Thin and discreet, Boots’ Skin Heat Patches provide up to eight hours of soothing relief from muscular aches and pains. Simply apply the adhesive side of the patch to your skin over the painful area, then wait as it gradually warms up.