The emerging role of free radicals in delayed onset muscle soreness and contraction-induced muscle injury

Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2005 Nov;142(3):257-66. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2005.08.005. Epub 2005 Sep 8.


The first reported reference to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) was that by Theodore Hough in 1902. Hough stated that when an untrained skeletal muscle performed exercise, it often resulted in discomfort that did not manifest until 8-10 h post-exercise, and concluded that this could not be solely attributed to fatigue. Since Hough's initial observation there has been a proliferation in research into DOMS, and despite this, the exact aetiology remains unclear. This review explores the concept of DOMS in relation to the likely causative factors and also discusses possible reasons for the equivocal findings in the literature. Free radicals are unquestionably produced during and following various forms of contractile activity and are known to result in skeletal muscle damage. Given the link between DOMS and contraction-induced muscle damage, post-exercise free radical production has been associated with DOMS; however, the precise nature of this relationship remains unsubstantiated. This review will address free radical production during and following exercise, discuss methods of assessing their generation, and critically evaluate their relationship with DOMS. There is increasing literature to suggest that free radicals act as signalling molecules, specifically activating redox sensitive transcription factors, which are necessary for muscle regeneration and adaptation following damage. Consequently free radicals may play a key physiological role in the aetiology of DOMS as opposed to a pathological role. Evidence for and against free radicals causing DOMS will be presented, and finally a suggested role of free radicals in DOMS will be proposed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Free Radicals / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Muscle Fatigue / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Pain / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • Free Radicals
  • Reactive Oxygen Species