Delayed-onset muscle soreness, otherwise known as DOMS, may be the cause of back pain after exercising. While there are many possible reasons for the onset of pain, athletes commonly experience DOMS when increasing training or performing new exercises. DOMS-related pain shows up at least 12 hours after exercise with no known trauma to the back.
Unlike a traumatic injury identified immediately, DOMS pain is experienced anywhere from 12 to 24 hours after your workout and may even worsen for up to 72 hours after the workout. DOMS consists of localized muscle pain and may also include tenderness and stiffness that should dissipate on its own within five days, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
DOMS may result from any exercise but is more commonly associated with eccentric exercises, according to a study published in the July-Sept. 2005 issue of the "Journal of Athletic Training." Eccentric exercises are exercise movements that contract the muscle while lengthening them. When you start a new exercise routine, your muscles may lack the conditioning required to perform the new activity. The muscles develop microscopic tears from the strain. Downhill walking, pushups and situps are examples of exercises that can lead to DOMS in the back.
The standard modalities for sore muscle treatment are rest, ice, compression and elevation. Rest allows the muscles the opportunity to heal, while ice, compression and elevation help reduce any swelling in the area. John Mayer, DC, PhD, of Spine Health recommends using heat wrap therapy for lower back pain after exercise. The heat wrap should start 48 hours after exercise, after you have applied ice to help reduce any swelling. Massage has also proven effective in reducing the pain and tenderness associated with DOMS, as reported in the "Journal of Athletic Training" study.
Preventing DOMS requires properly warming up. Jog or cycle for five to 10 minutes prior to a workout, especially if you are starting a new exercise program. Do not jump full steam into a new exercise regiment. Start with shorter durations and build up over time. Don't abandon the exercise program because you develop DOMS pain. Give yourself a day or two of recovery and then go back into the workout to allow your muscles to adapt to the new movements.
Go to the doctor if your muscle pain increases beyond the normal 72 hours or if it does not dissipate after five days. A full evaluation and diagnosis can rule out more significant medical conditions such as fibromyalgia. Should a rash or fever onset, seek immediate medical attention. Redness, excessive swelling and poor circulation are indicative of other serious medical conditions.
- Muscle Physiology: Types of Contractions
- Journal of Athletic Training: Effects of Massage on Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness
- MedlinePlus: Muscle Aches
- Spine Health: Heat Wrap Therapy Can Reduce Post-Exercise Low Back Pain
- The Journal of Physiology: Muscle Damage from Eccentric Exercise
- University Health Services: RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation for Injuries
- American College of Sports Medicine: ACSM Information on Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)