Do you ever wonder why it feels like you got hit by a bus the day or two after a deep tissue massage or workout? This is not necessarily a bad thing, but can confuse a lot of people into thinking that the massage or workout was bad for them. This symptom is actually called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS.
DOMS is defined as activity that puts unaccustomed loads onto muscle causing soreness, 24-72 hours after exercise or intense massage. This is considered a normal repair process, in which the soreness is caused by microscopic damage to the muscle fibers during exercise or massage. A variety of cells and substances flock to the muscles to help repair those tears. Anatomically, it is usually caused by eccentric contractions which is when the muscle lengthens while load is applied. An example of this action is using the quad muscles while running downhill.
There is a myth out there that says the soreness is caused by lactic acid, but this is actually not a component of the healing process. No treatment has been shown to be able to decrease the duration of DOMS except for rest and proper hydration. Even though the process might be uncomfortable or slightly painful, after the cycle has been completed, it is shown to make the muscles stronger and more capable to adapt to future strains. Since the more repetitions you do in a given exercise, the more damage and soreness there will be, it is suggested to gradually increase the duration of the exercise and/or intensity of the workout to minimize the likelihood of DOMS. Also, the general advice is to go through a proper warm-up, progress slowly into a new program, and stretch only after the body is warmed up.
If the muscles are not used to massage, they will respond with soreness that should only last a day or two. It is always extremely important and helpful to communicate with the massage therapist what you expect from the session and your tolerance for deeper work so that they do not go over your limits or not be intense enough for your liking. After the massage, the typical take home instructions are to drink plenty of water immediately after and continue that for the next 48 hours. In addition, refrain from strenuous activity for the remainder of the day. Rest as if you just worked out. It is a good practice to either get a longer massage on a day where you are able to relax, or later in the day or at night when your activities have already happened. Shorter soft tissue or massage (<15 minutes) might be more enjoyable to some that do not want any discomfort in their session, and will most likely significantly decrease the likelihood of DOMS.
Ask Well: Why Do Muscles Ache a Day or Two After Exercise? November 2, 2015. Reynolds, Gretchen.
ACSM Information On…Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). American College of Sports Medicine.
Why Am I Sore? 2003. Vanderbelt, Shirley.