Updated: Oct 10, 2021
TL;DR: Though muscle soreness is not a direct cause of muscle growth, it could be an indicator. But it does not mean if you aren't sore after a workout you aren't growing.
Have you experienced the feeling of DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) after a workout?
That muscle soreness gives some people a sense of accomplishment, but does it mean muscle growth?
Muscle soreness does not directly cause muscle growth, but the soreness you feel after a workout could be an indicator of muscle growth. Though, it is not the same for every muscle, the shoulders don't get as sore as the legs, for example.
It is not set in stone that muscle soreness equals muscle growth, it is far from that.
Table of Contents:
What Is Muscle Soreness (DOMS)?
Ever felt soreness in or around the muscle you trained? Thats known as DOMS, short for delayed-onset muscle soreness.
DOMS occurs for a multitude of reasons, such as the following.
When you begin a new exercise programme
If you alter your exercise regimen
If you increase the length or intensity of your usual workout
After a hard and high-intensity exercise
Anyone, regardless of fitness level, may experience muscle pain and soreness one or two days after exercising.
What Causes DOMS?
DOMS is caused by microscopic damage to muscle fibres.
When your muscles are forced to perform harder or in a different manner than they are used to, microscopic tears to the muscle fibres is thought to occur.
These microscopic tears cause inflammation, pain and soreness.
Muscle soreness and pain may be your body's defence mechanism to stop you from working the damaged muscle too hard, allowing it time to heal and repair.
Different types of exercise can cause more muscle damage than others, such as eccentric exercise and heavy training.
Eccentric training (lengthening contraction) causes much more muscle damage than concentric and other types of exercise.
Further Reading: Eccentric vs Concentric vs Isometric Training
Does Muscle Soreness Cause Muscle Growth?
You may feel accomplishment and achievement when you feel sore the next day after a hard workout, thinking that your muscles are growing.
But, does this muscle soreness cause muscle growth?
No, muscle soreness does not cause muscle growth. There is no mechanism behind muscle soreness itself to cause muscle growth, it is simply a by product and symptom of muscle damage.
However, the mechanism that causes muscle soreness (muscle damage) can actually cause muscle growth. (1)
Muscle damage is one of the major causes of muscle growth, along with metabolic stress and mechanical tension.
Therefore, muscle soreness itself cannot cause muscle growth, but the cause of soreness (muscle damage) can cause muscle growth.
Mechanical tension can be enhanced by training with heavy weights and metabolic stress can be enhanced using muscle pump training and isometric training.
Another interesting thing to note is that exercise-induced muscle damage and soreness can reduce short-term performance.
Does Muscle Soreness Mean Muscle Growth?
We know that muscle soreness cannot cause muscle growth. But does DOMS indicate muscle growth?
Muscle soreness may indicate muscle growth instead of causing it. The underlying reason for DOMS is muscle damage, a major factor in muscle growth, meaning when you feel sore it may indicate you have sufficient damage to the muscle fibres to cause muscle growth.
Though, this is only theory, there is not enough evidence to validate this theory.
Eccentric exercise causes the most muscle damage and also causes hypertrophy of muscle tissue.
Hypertrophy from eccentric training means that the muscle growth is caused by something related to eccentric exercise, which is likely the muscle damage caused by it.
Downsides of DOMS
Delayed-onset muscle soreness is not all good, though. It can cause decreased force production and strength, along with reduced exercise performance. (2)
This decreased performance seems to be only temporary and short-term, though.
Providing that proper rest and recovery is utilised, it's likely possible to regain strength and exercise performance.
Muscle soreness (DOMS) is a result of exercise-induced muscle damage and micro-tears to the muscle fibres.
Factors involved in muscular hypertrophy include mechanical tension, metabolic stress and muscle damage.
Muscle damage is seen highest in eccentric exercise and heavy weightlifting, which causes the most muscle soreness.
Therefore, DOMS is likely an indicator of muscle growth but doesn't cause muscle growth.
Written by Billy White
Billy White is a qualified Kinesiologist and Personal Trainer. He is an aspiring bodybuilder, fitness enthusiast, and health and fitness researcher.
He has multiple years of experience within the fitness, bodybuilding and health space. He is committed to providing the highest-quality information.
This section contains links to research, studies, and sources of information for this article, as well as authors, contributors, etc. All sources, along with the article and facts, are subjected to a series of quality, reliability, and relevance checks.
Real Muscle primarily uses high-quality sources, such as peer-reviewed publications, to back up the information in our articles. To understand more about how we fact-check and keep our information accurate, dependable, and trustworthy, read more about us.
This evidence-based analysis of soreness and muscle growth features 2 references, listed below.
1. Schoenfeld, Brad J. The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training. J Strength Cond Res. (2010, Oct) ✔
2. Doma K, Leicht A, Sinclair W, Schumann M, Damas F, Burt D, Woods C. Impact of Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage on Performance Test Outcomes in Elite Female Basketball Players. J Strength Cond Res. (2018, Jun) ✔
✔ Citations with a tick indicate the information is from a trusted source.
The information provided in this article is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of a physician or other competent professional before following advice or taking any supplement. See our terms and conditions.