When you are engaging in new physical activity or increase the workout intensity, muscle soreness is likely the result. Soreness of muscles can happen immediately, or it can happen between six to eight hours later. Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS get a bit worse over time and peak 24 to 48 hours later. That’s why you are often more sore the next day. Muscle soreness starts to diminish about three days after a vigorous workout and will continue to decrease quickly after that, though of course the timeline varies from one person to another. It’s not just soreness of muscles that causes the discomfort–there is often swelling and reduced range of motion, and mild pain. But why do muscles get sore? What gives you the discomfort when a good round of exercise is done?
Why Do Your Muscles Get Sore?
For many years, it is believed that muscle soreness was caused by buildup of lactic acid in the muscles during workouts; now scientists know this is not the case. Actually, these three factors play a key role:
1. Micro-Fractures in the Muscle Cells
When you do something your body is not accustomed to doing, or even do something ‘typical’ with more vigor or repetition, the cells themselves begin to break down. However, once your muscles are accustomed to that particular motion, the fractures will not happen and you will not get sore as often.
2. Damage to the Connective Tissue
Tiny tears in the body’s connective tissues often appear after vigorous workouts. This leads to slow bleeding of the z-bandfilaments that hold muscles. This damage leads to pain, which then leads to even more soreness as you move around in the days after the workout.
3. Inflammation of the Injured Area
All of the damage leads to inflammation which is the way the body deals with an injury. The body then increases the production of immune cells, and these cells release substances that affect the sensitivity of the nerve endings of your body, thus leading to muscle soreness.
Is Muscle Soreness Good or Bad?
In addition to understanding “why do muscles get sore”, knowing when it’s a good thing or a bad thing is important–you need to know if you should keep going or stop. Here’s what matters:
- When Is It a Good Thing? DOMS can be good because it indicates the workout is actually doing something. The soreness can give you a feeling of accomplishment, and in fact, all those little aches and pains do indicate that your body is growing much stronger.
- When Is It a Bad Thing? When the muscle soreness is due to sudden introduction of new exercises and increase of intensity, it becomes a bad thing. The key here is not to do the same challenging activity the next day. If the pain is accompanied by weakness or a feeling of shakiness and instability, you have pushed things too hard.
Should You Continue Your Workout?
It is usually okay to continue working outeven when you feel muscle soreness. The warmup plays a great role and you can do some light cardio and stretching. What matters is not doing the same activity over and over. For instance, if your arms are sore, it’s time to work on your legs. You can also try to cut the workout intensity into the half.If the soreness continues to get worse and you are feeling pain, to a point where you can’t work out as effectively as you did before, it’s time to stop. Take the day off and let your body recover for a while.
How to Relieve Muscle Soreness
Now you have the answer to “why do muscles get sore?” and the benefits and drawbacks of muscle soreness, you may need some methods to relieve the soreness between workouts. The following six tips can work very well.
1. Ice It Down
Getting your muscles under ice quickly can help reduce soreness you might have later. Submerge your arms and legs in ice water 10-20 minutes if that is where the soreness is; use ice packs elsewhere. A cold shower can also help.
2. Warm It Up
A few hours later, warmth will help open up the muscle fibers and keep them from becoming too tight. Heat yourself up for about 20 minutes. A hot shower is great, as well as warm compresses on areas that hurt. Add epsom salts to a warm bath to speed muscle healing.
3. Keep Moving
Light activity can help keep your muscles moving, which prevents stiffness and might alleviate some of the soreness. This works because it enhances blood flow to the muscles.
4. Massage It
Massage can help reduce inflammation in your body and stretch out the tight muscles that are causing so much soreness. You can massage yourself or ask someone else to do it; if you massage your own muscles, don’t focus on the middle of the muscle itself, but on the connections at each end.
5. Use a Foam Roller
A foam roller allows you to get a good, deep massage right after your workout. It works best on leg and thigh muscles, but can also be used for your back, rear and chest.
6. Take Medication
If the soreness becomes too much, turn to over the counter pain relievers to help you cope with it. Anti-inflammatory drugs work best, such as ibuprofen or naproxen. You can also use aspirin if you are an adult (never give aspirin to anyone under the age of 18).
When to See a Doctor
Though muscle soreness is quite common after a workout, it’s important to know when something is wrong besides “why do muscles get sore”. Call the doctor if the soreness lasts for more than a week or if you there is redness or warmth in the painful joint of muscle. If pain medicine gives no relief, that’s a sign something more is going on. If you suffer from sudden shooting pain, difficulty breathing, dizziness, and intense pain in your joints, get to the doctor immediately.