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Muscle Pain and Soreness After Exercise

Tips for dealing with delayed muscle soreness after exercise

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Updated April 02, 2014

Muscle Pain | Muscle Soreness After Exercise

Muscle Soreness After Exercise

Robert Cianflone / Getty Images

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) describes a phenomenon of muscle pain, muscle soreness or muscle stiffness that occurs in the day or two after exercise. This muscle soreness is most frequently felt when you begin a new exercise program, change your exercise routine, or dramatically increase the duration or intensity of your exercise routine.

Although it can be alarming for new exercisers, delayed onset muscle soreness is a normal response to unusual exertion and is part of an adaptation process that leads to greater stamina and strength as the muscles recover and build hypertrophy).

This sort of muscle pain is not the same as the muscle pain or fatigue you experience during exercise. Delayed soreness is also unlike the acute, sudden and sharp pain of an injury such as a muscle strains or sprain that occurs during activity and often causes swelling or bruising. The delayed muscle soreness of DOMS is generally at its worst within the first 2 days following a new, intense activity and slowly subsides over the next few days.

 

What Causes Muscle Soreness After Exercise?

Delayed onset muscle soreness is thought to be a result of microscopic tearing of the muscle fibers. The amount of tearing (and soreness) depends on how hard and how long you exercise and what type of exercise you do. Any movement you aren't used to can lead to DOMS, but eccentric muscle contractions (movements that cause muscle to forcefully contract while it lengthens) seem to cause the most soreness.

Examples of eccentric muscle contractions include going down stairs, running downhill, lowering weights and the downward motion of squats and push-ups. In addition to small muscle tears there can be associated swelling in a muscle which may contribute to soreness.

 

What Is the Best Treatment for Muscle Soreness After Exercise?

There is no one simple way to treat delayed onset muscle soreness. In fact, there has been an ongoing debate about both the cause and treatment of DOMS. In the past, gentle stretching was one of the recommended ways to reduce exercise related muscle soreness, but a study by Australian researchers published in 2007 found that stretching is not effective in avoiding muscle soreness.

So does anything work to reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness? Nothing is proven 100 percent effective and although some people have found the following advice helpful, it's best to try a few things to see what works for you. Ultimately, best advice for treating DOMS is to prevent it in the first place.

Using aFoam Roller After Exercise May Help Reduce Soreness

One technique I've used with some success to reduce my own muscle soreness is to use a foam roller regularly as a part of my cool down. This has been particularly helpful for me after a long, high intensity bike ride or after I start a new type of exercise or a new weight training routine.

Tips for Dealing with Muscle Soreness After Exercise

If you do find yourself sore after a tough workout or competition, try these methods to deal with your discomfort. Although not all are backed up with research, many athletes report success with some of the following methods.
  • Use Active Recovery. This strategy does have support in the research. Performing easy low-impact aerobic exercise increasing blood flow and is linked with diminished muscle soreness. After an intense workout or competition, use this technique as a part of your cool down.
  • Rest and Recover. If you simply wait it out, soreness will go away in 3 to 7 days with no special treatment.
  • Try a Sports Massage. Some research has found that sports massage may help reduce reported muscle soreness and reduce swelling, although it had no effects on muscle function.
  • Try an Ice Bath or Contrast Water Bath. Although no clear evidence proves they are effective, many pro athletes use them and claim they work to reduce soreness.
  • Use R.I.C.E., the standard method of treating acute injuries, if your soreness is particularly painful.
  • Perform Gentle Stretching. Although research doesn't find stretching alone reduces muscle pain of soreness, many people find it simply feels good.
  • Try a Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory. Aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium may help to temporarily reduce the muscle soreness, although they won't actually speed healing. Be careful, however, if you plan to take them before exercise. Studies reported that taking ibuprofen before endurance exercise is not recommended.
  • Try Yoga. There is growing support that performing Yoga may reduce DOMS.
  • Listen to Your Body. Avoid any vigorous activity or exercise that increases pain.
  • Allow the soreness to subside thoroughly before performing any vigorous exercise.
  • Warm Up completely before your next exercise session. There is some research that supports that a warm-up performed immediately prior to unaccustomed eccentric exercise produces small reductions in delayed-onset muscle soreness (but cool-down performed after exercise does not).
  • ** If your pain persists longer than about 7 days or increases despite these measures, consult your physician.
  • Learn something from the experience! Use prevention first.

 

Tips to Help Prevent Muscle Soreness After Exercise

While you may not be able to prevent muscle soreness entirely, you may reduce the intensity and duration of muscles soreness if you follow a few exercise recommendations.
  • Progress Slowly. The most important prevention method is to gradually increase your exercise time and intensity. See the 10 percent rule if you need some exercise progression guidelines.
  • Warm Up thoroughly before activity and cool down completely afterward.
  • Cool Down with gentle stretching after exercise.
  • Follow the Ten Percent Rule. When beginning a new activity start gradually and build up your time and intensity no more than ten percent per week.
  • Know the 10 Tips for Safe Workouts.
  • Follow the Spring Training Fitness Tips.
  • Hire a Personal Trainer if you aren't sure how to start a workout program that is safe and effective.
  • Start a new weight lifting routine with light weights and high reps (10-12) and gradually increase the amount you lift over several weeks.
  • Avoid making sudden major changes in the type of exercise you do.
  • Avoid making sudden major changes in the amount of time that you exercise.

 

Certain muscle pain or soreness can be a sign of a serious injury. If your muscle soreness does not get better within a week consult your physician.

 

Sources

[mrw.interscience.wiley.com/cochrane/clsysrev/articles/CD004577/frame.html]Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise, RD Herbert, M de Noronha, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 4, 2007, The Cochrane Collaboration.

Herbert, R., Gabriel, M. [http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/abridged/325/7362/468?eaf]BMJ 2002;325:468-470. Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review

Szymanski, D. (2003). Recommendations for the avoidance of delayed-onset muscle soreness. Strength and Conditioning Journal 23(4): 7–13.

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