Muscle soreness may be painful or incapacitating. So, what can you do to improve muscle recovery and go back to your favorite exercise?
Pain after a workout is normal, but it doesn’t make it any easier for those who experience it. (However, knowing that it’s usually a typical response to your training stimulus may be encouraging.) Sore muscles after an exercise are annoying, and people want to know how to stop them.
It helps to first understand what causes muscular pain, also known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Once you know what’s causing the pain, you may concentrate on treating it or preventing it. Here’s all you need to know about DOMS.
Why are your muscles sore?
Experts think that tiny rips in muscle fibers develop during exercise, according to New York fitness trainer and physical therapist Laura Miranda, DPT, CSCS. “Muscle microtears induce discomfort and inflammation,” she adds. The discomfort typically starts 12–24 hours after your exercise and peaks 24–72 hours afterward.
The process of repairing muscle fibers is similar to that of creating muscle, Miranda explains. It’s part of the process of developing muscle and strength.
But, argues Miranda, greater muscular pain does not equate to better or faster muscle or strength gains. Getting overly sore after a workout may actually work against your objectives, as you may end up missing sessions due to pain.
There are different levels of discomfort depending on the injury (and other variables like heredity and hydration), but severe soreness shouldn’t be a routine.
What exercises cause muscular soreness?
Excessive eccentric activity is more likely to leave you limping the following day. Strength exercises include two phases: concentric (lifting) and eccentric (lowering) (the lowering part). In the eccentric phase, you’re really tearing muscle fibers and your muscles are working their hardest. (Downhill running is an eccentric workout, which is why DOMS may develop afterward.)
“You have this very high degree of force generation in the muscles, so you get this false feeling of how much training you can keep doing,” says Atlanta exercise physiologist Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
This makes it difficult to recognize when you’ve gone too far.
You’re more likely to have DOMS if you force your body to move in ways it’s not used to if you use smaller muscles that it’s not used to, or if you stress your muscles beyond their capacity. That might imply a virtual boot camp session with far too many lateral lunges, biceps curls (particularly if eccentric), or just way too much volume (sets and reps).
“You may get carried away, try a different class, or have a replacement teacher,” says Pete McCall, M.S., CSCS, presenter of the All About Fitness podcast. Extreme soreness may occur whenever you perform anything new to your muscles, even if it’s simply a competitive boot camp session.
What causes muscular soreness?
Muscle pain can be caused by DOMS, acute muscle soreness, or an actual injury.
Acute muscle soreness is the burn you get while working out, says Miranda. You’ll get DOMS after a few hours or days, but you’ll get acute muscle soreness right afterward. You’ll feel it in the muscles you’re working (shoulders and triceps, for example), and it’ll tell you when to stop and that you can’t squeeze out another rep.
DOMS and acute muscle soreness can feel more global than an injury, like your whole leg or glutes. Injuries, on the other hand, tend to be more focused. Miranda describes a different family of pain—sharper and more specific—that occurs with specific movements. “It can also be triggered by a specific range of motion, like rotating your arm in a certain way.”
Another method to determine which kind you have? If you feel pain bilaterally (on both quads instead of just one), Miranda says it’s more likely DOMS than an injury. DOMS should also start to feel better after three days, whereas an injury should last a week or more. In that case, see your doctor or physical therapist.
How can you reduce muscle pain!
If you’re already in excruciating pain, the only cure is time. But there are certain things you may do to lessen the discomfort and speed up the process.
1. Move lightly.
This stinks. “But if you’re truly hurting, being on the sofa is the worst thing you can do,” adds McCall. Because exercise improves circulation, it improves blood flow.
According to Seedman, improved blood flow and nutrition delivery to the muscles may help speed up the healing process and decrease DOMS. We know that blood delivers nutrients and oxygen to muscular tissue, but further study is needed. The theory is that the sooner these nutrients reach their target (through blood flow), the faster you will feel better.
This doesn’t imply you should resume your normal exercise routine—we’re talking moderate activities like walking or riding a recumbent bike. Seedman also suggests mild strength training if you can handle it. “Strength training works because it increases blood flow,” he adds. One of the greatest methods to get circulation into your muscles.
Light implies superlight since you don’t want to injure the muscle fibers. Seedman advises utilizing just 25% to 50% of your usual weight or doing bodyweight workouts.
Hydrate. Dehydration has been linked to increased muscular pain and DOMS, according to Seedman. In the meanwhile, “researchers and practitioners have hypothesized that if
dehydration causes pain, increasing hydration may reduce it,” he says.
Seedman believes that water helps flush away waste materials. Muscle breakdown produces waste materials and poisons that need to be filtered out of the body, causing greater pain.
3. Lightly stretch.
Again, light. Stretching may help relieve tension and improve the range of motion in painful muscles, which can help you feel better even if it doesn’t cure or mend the muscle rips. (While pre-workout stretching typically involves dynamic movements, post-workout static stretching may be beneficial. This may help you stretch more easily since your muscles are already heated.)
More isn’t always better. “Be cautious,” warns Seedman. “Light stretching is beneficial, but attempting to overstretch a muscle that is very tight may cause the muscle to re-tighten due to the body’s resistance. ”
“Stretch until it feels fairly tight, release up after 5 to 10 seconds, and repeat,” explains Seedman. If it’s too painful to even consider stretching, don’t bother. It’s just momentary relief.
4. Get adequate protein.
Protein is essential for developing and maintaining muscle, therefore it’s important for muscle recovery.
While you should always consume enough protein to avoid recurrent or long-lasting muscle
pain, Seedman believes it’s good to double-check after the fact.
This doesn’t imply a lot of protein. Those who exercise should aim for 1.4-2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. For a 150-pound active individual, that’s 95-136 grams per day, divided across all meals.
5. Heat or cold may help relieve discomfort.
However, in the end, it’s all about what feels good to you—the benefits are mostly transitory. It’s worth it when you’re really hurting.
Seedman believes ice may help decrease swelling associated with severe pain. Swelling may help relieve some pain-causing stress. Elevating your legs (if they’re painful) may also assist.
Seedman claims that heat may reduce tension and pain signals. So, if a warm bath helps you relax, go for it. McCall says it may also improve circulation.
What can you do to avoid muscular soreness?
While the suggestions above may help alleviate existing pain, there are other ways to avoid or at least minimize the onset of DOMS.
Slow down to avoid DOMS.
To avoid DOMS, it makes sense to ease into a new kind of exercise (or any training, if you’re just starting off).
Adding new workouts gradually, Miranda suggests. So, if you usually perform equal timed
contractions for strength training—lifting and lowering take roughly the same amount of time—you may want to introduce eccentric training gradually into your program. If you usually do four sets of conventional biceps curls, you may perform one or two sets of eccentric biceps curls.
Instead of diving straight in, go for a beginner-friendly virtual class that will teach you the basics before throwing you into the deep end.
Foam roll post-workout.
Foam rolling after a workout may help decrease DOMS. A meta-analysis of 14 research in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that self-myofascial release using a foam roller or a roller massager helped reduce post-exercise muscle pain.
“This increases blood flow and oxygenation to the region, which scientists think helps reduce DOMS,” Miranda explains. Like SELF previously revealed, percussion treatment devices like the Theragun Elite may help.
Overall, time should cure your ailment, unless it is more severe.
While you’re healing, keep an eye out for symptoms of anything more severe. Overworked muscle fibers die, releasing the protein myoglobin into the circulation, causing kidney damage and possibly failure. The primary symptom is cola-colored urine, coupled with severe muscular pain, weakness, and edema. Follow these symptoms to the doctor.
If you feel severe pain during your exercise, or if your soreness doesn’t go away after a few days, you may be injured and need to visit a doctor.