Exercise and Muscle Soreness


by Anton Maartens

Soreness or discomfort is a common phenomenon in people who lead an active lifestyle. There are two general kinds of exercise-related muscle soreness:

Acute soreness

Muscle soreness during or immediately after a workout is often due to normal muscle fatigue. This feeling of discomfort is caused by chemical waste building up in the muscles during exercise.

The soreness normally disappears after a few minutes of rest. Once it is gone you can usually go on training as usual. Note that there is a difference between soreness and pain. Acute pain could indicate an injury and requires medical attention.

Delayed soreness

Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS) usually appears later, approximately 12 hours after your workout. The symptoms usually peak between 24 to 48 hours and normally disappear within a few days.

These symptoms of soreness and stiffness are a normal adaptation process, which will lead to greater strength once your muscles have recovered. That is why it is important that you should allow for adequate rest in your workout week.

Many people believe that DOMS is caused by lactic acid, which builds in the muscles during exercise. This is a myth. Although the topic remains controversial, most experts agree that DOMS is caused by microscopic tears in the muscle fibers, as well as some swelling.

There is no sure way to prevent DOMS, unless you decide not to exercise at all! But there are ways to minimize the amount of discomfort you will suffer:

  • Always do a proper warm-up before you start
  • Change your program gradually
  • Progress slowly over the weeks, allowing you body time to adjust to new challenges
  • Warm-down for a few minutes after strenuous sessions, by lowering you heart rate gradually back to normal
  • Cool down after every workout by doing long, static stretches for every muscle group

If you do end up with a severe case of DOMS, try the following tips to get some relief and speed up the healing process

  • Avoid exercising the sore muscles and allow time
    for healing
  • Do some light static stretches
  • Gently massage the affected muscles
  • Apply ice to the affected areas for a few minutes
  • Anti-inflammatory medication, for instance aspirin or ibuprofen, and some Vitamin C may also help to alleviate discomfort

However, if the acute or delayed muscle soreness persists, consult a medical expert for scientific advice.

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