According to our hypothesis, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is an acute compression axonopathy of the nerve endings in the muscle spindle. It is caused by the superposition of compression when repetitive eccentric contractions are executed under cognitive demand.
The acute compression axonopathy could coincide with microinjury of the surrounding tissues and is enhanced by immune-mediated inflammation. DOMS is masked by sympathetic nervous system activity at initiation, but once it subsides, a safety mode comes into play to prevent further injury. DOMS becomes manifest when the microinjured non-nociceptive sensory fibers of the muscle spindle stop inhibiting the effects of the microinjured, hyperexcited nociceptive sensory fibers, therefore providing the ‘open gate’ in the dorsal horn to hyperalgesia.
Reactive oxygen species and nitric oxide play a cross-talking role in the parallel, interlinked degeneration–regeneration mechanisms of these injured tissues. We propose that the mitochondrial electron transport chain generated free radical involvement in the acute compression axonopathy. ‘Closed gate exercises’ could be of nonpharmacological therapeutic importance, because they reduce neuropathic pain in addition to having an anti-inflammatory effect. Finally, DOMS could have an important ontogenetical role by not just enhancing ability to escape danger to survive in the wild, but also triggering muscle growth.