Body aches: after exercise
Sore muscles are one of the least pleasant side effects of exercise. Always keep in mind it is a good thing when your muscles are sore because it means you have worked the muscles hard. No pain no gain they say.
Muscle soreness can be very uncomfortable and disruptive. However, it will usually go away in a few days.
To boost muscle recovery, it is good for you to understand what is causing the post-exercise discomfort, which experts refer to as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Once you understand what it means, you can then focus on how to find relief and even adjust your recovery habits to try and prevent the soreness from developing after future workouts. So you can get back to moving how and when you want without too much downtime.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
Delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS is the result of the small tears to your muscle fibers that occur while you are working out. The small micro tears to our muscles cause pain and inflammation.
This is actually the same process involved in building muscle, when your muscle fibers build up after these tears, they recover and come back stronger than before. This is a normal part of the muscle growth and strength-building process.
However more muscle soreness or DOMs does not equal better or quicker muscle-building or strength-building results. Getting too sore after a workout can be counterproductive to those goals, as you may have to skip out on a few workouts due to the pain in your muscles.
There are varying degrees of pain depending on how much damage has been done and other factors like genetics and how hydrated you are, but regularly experiencing extreme soreness is something you should not make a habit of.
What type of workouts causes sore muscles?
Workouts that include a lot of eccentric exercises are more likely to leave you barely moving the next day.
Strength exercises have two phases: the concentric which is the phase when the muscle is shortening, typically the lifting part, and the eccentric which is the phase when the muscle is lengthening, typically the lower part.
The eccentric phase is where you are actually creating tears in the muscle fibers, and it is also where your muscles are working at their strongest. Downhill running can also count as an eccentric exercise, which is why the DOMs can be more likely to occur after it too.
You are also likely to experience DOMS if you push your body to movement patterns that it is not accustomed to, engage smaller muscles that your workouts do not typically touch, or stress the muscles way more than they are accustomed to or prepared for. That might mean a virtual boot camp with lots of lateral lunges, too many bicep curls, or just way more volume than you are used to.
Basically, extreme soreness can happen any time you do something your muscles are not familiar with, even if that is just a competitive boot camp or fitness class.
During physical activity, the body's muscles extend and contract to support the movement. Prolonged or repetitive physical activity can overexert the muscles. This can lead to muscle soreness.
Overexertion and muscle soreness are more likely to occur after physical activity that is beyond normal activities.
This could be due to:
- Exercising more often than usual
- Doing higher-intensity workouts
- Performing longer workouts
- Introducing a new exercise to your workout program
Muscle soreness usually occurs several hours after physical exercise. For this reason, doctors will refer to the condition as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Most people experience muscle soreness at some point, regardless of their physical fitness.
The exact cause of DOMS is still unclear. Some experts do believe it may be due to microscopic tears in the muscle fibers, which can develop during exercise.
They believe that muscle soreness is the result of the body healing those scars. DOMS is not due to the build-up of lactic acid in the muscles.
Even bodybuilders get them
No one is immune to muscle soreness, not even bodybuilders. Exercise neophytes and bodybuilders alike experience muscle soreness.
Anyone can get cramps or DOMS, from the average person that goes to the gym to the bodybuilders.
Muscle discomfort is simply a symptom of using your muscles and placing stresses on them that are leading to adaptions to make them stronger and more able to perform the task next time.
But for the deconditioned person who is just starting out this can be very intimidating. People just starting out need help and advice on an exercise program.
People that are not very fit will go to a new class and will get excited about these new fitness classes and when they get to the class the instructors will not tell them they will be sore after. This is a very important thing to know if you are new at exercising as it can be scary if you do not know what is happening to your body.
People that are new to fitness that get sore muscles might get worried and then never go back to these classes as the feeling of sore muscles is unfamiliar to them and they do not know it is normal.
Letting them know it is okay to feel sore might help them get through the first few days without being discouraged.
Don't get in a rut
It is also a process of muscle conditioning. Delayed onset muscle soreness also has a "repeat" effect.
If someone does an activity, they will be inoculated for a few weeks to few months, but the next time they do an activity there will be less damage, less soreness, and a faster strength recovery.
This is why athletes usually cross-train and vary their routines to continue to challenge and develop their muscle strength.
It is important to distinguish the difference between moderate muscle soreness included by exercise and muscle overuse or injury.
If soreness prevents you from doing daily task and activities then that is too much soreness.
Different types of muscle soreness
There are a many different types of muscle discomfort: DOMS as mentioned above, acute muscle soreness, or an actual injury.
Acute soreness refers to that burn you are feeling while exercising. So while DOMS will not rear up for hours or days, you will experience acute muscle soreness during the workout. You will feel this in the muscle you are working on, so if you are doing overhead presses for example you will feel it in your shoulders and triceps. It will pretty much tell you when it is time to stop.
Both DOMS and acute muscle soreness tend to feel more global than an actual injury, your whole legs or glutes area might be sore, for example. But with an injury, the the pain or discomfort tends to be more focused.
Another possible way to tell which kind you are experiencing, is if you feel discomfort bilaterally after your workout, like on both quads instead of one stop on one leg, it more likely to be DOMS than an injury.
DOMS should also start to feel better after three or four days, whereas is something lasts for a week or more, it may be an injury. In that case it may be worth seeing a doctor or a physical therapist.
How long does it last?
According to American college of sports medicine, muscle soreness usually begins 12-14 hours following exercise. The muscle soreness tends to peak around 24-72 hours after the exercise. After this time the pain should start to disappear.
The level of soreness a person feels during DOMS depend on the type, duration, and frequency of the activity that caused the pain.
It is possible to continue with exercising while you have sore muscles but it may be uncomfortable for you.
Sharp pain that occurs immediately after activity could be a sign of injury, such as strains or sprains. These injuries rare the result of a muscle, tendon, or ligament becoming stretched or torn and are more severe than DOMS, possible requires medical attention.
Is it okay to exercise with sore muscles?
In general, it is okay to exercise with sore muscles to a certain degree. If you have extreme pain meaning you struggle with day-to-day activities like walking down the stairs or lifting your arm, doing heavy exercise can make things feel worse and should be generally avoided until you are better.
However, doing some light exercise, as long as it does not feel painful. The key here is to do different exercises and working a different set of muscles than the ones that initially made your muscles sore.
You do not want to continue to fatigue or stress the muscles that are sore, because then they will not recover correctly and that can lead to pain, fatigue, injury, and a decrease in performance.
How sore is too sore?
Movement is actually a great way to relieve pain, so do not skip your workout just because you are sore. Light exercise will actually help get your blood flow going and reduce your symptoms.
But what about when sore is too sore, is there such a thing?
Typically, muscle soreness peaks around day three and starts to disappear afterwards. If your soreness persists beyond these days this may mean you overdid it, you have pushed your muscles a little too hard. Prolonged soreness could be a sign of injury.
If your pain persists over three days and is accompanied by sharp pains, limits your range of mobility or affects your gait, it might be more than muscle sorenes and you should see a sports medicine doctor.
Does warming up lessen post-workout muscle soreness?
You may have heard that stretching can help prevent pain and injury, but stretching your muscles before a workout is probably not the best idea.
A dynamic warmup immediately before a workout could reduce muscle soreness up to two days later.
How to relieve muscle soreness
Muscle pain is normal and rarely requires medical attention. In most cases, symptoms go away within a few days on their own. In the meantime it is best to not put too much strain on the injured muscles.
People sometimes recommend the following treatments to relieve muscle soreness:
A qualified sports message therapist or physiotherapist can provide massages for alleviating muscle soreness. Massages increase blood flow to the injured area, which can help promote healing and relieve pain.
Taking a warm bath or applying heat pads can also stimulate blood flow to the injured muscle. Heat therapy is only a temporary pain relief.
Cold packs or immersion in very cold water can help reduce muscle inflammation and swelling. Cold therapy is a longer-term treatment for muscle injuries.
Keeping the muscles active may help reduce pain. It is important to keep a intensity light and avoid any movements that put strain on injured muscles. Light exercise includes walking or gentle stretching.
Over-the-counter non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory can help to reduce muscle inflammation and associated pain.
CBD roll-ons or balms are a great for minor aches and pains. Formulas like Korasana Pain Relief Roll-on will leave a cool refreshed feeling on the muscle.
How to prevent sore muscles
While it is virtually impossible to completely prevent DOMS, you can take steps to reduce the severity of it.
According to the ACSM [American College Of Sports Medicine], the best way to do this is to build up slowly to any changes in exercise routines. The cautious approach would be to give your muscles time to adapt to the changes they are experiencing.