Sore muscles are often our not-so-friendly reward for an intense workout. Otherwise known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), it turns out that stiff feeling is actually a normal (albeit annoying) side effect of the muscle rebuilding process .
DOMS, Not Doom — The Need-To-Know
When muscles are repeatedly stretched and stressed, small microtears occur within the muscle fibers, usually leading to inflammation. In the days following a tough workout, the body starts rebuilding itself by creating new, stronger muscle fiber to compensate for the damage (making it better, stronger, faster). And so the soreness we perceive is caused by inflammation within the muscle during this rebuilding cycle .
This discomfort is accompanied by weakness (the muscle is damaged, after all) and usually rears its ugly head 24-48 hours after physical activity, though the time frame varies from person to person. The most common symptoms include muscle aches, stiffness, and tenderness, which usually peak after three days and then gradually taper off.
Major culprits include activities like lifting weights, hiking, plyometrics, and running downhill . Because the body builds tolerance and gradually shortens the time it takes to rebuild, DOMS may be greater for those new to exercise. It can also be more severe after performing a new exercise or activity, or if the intensity is kicked up a notch.
Rebuild, Replenish, Recover — Your Action Plan
The only surefire way to nix soreness is to let muscles rest . Drinking tart cherry juice, a natural anti-inflammatory aid, can minimize pain in the meantime. Stretching and low-intensity active recovery workouts may also reduce soreness by increasing blood flow to affected areas. And although scientific evidence isn’t conclusive, some researchers and trainers suggest a post-workout ice bath to get muscles on the fast track to recovery  . Brrrrrr!
Soreness is a natural effect of exercise and a sign muscles are benefiting from all that hard work. But if the pain persists for longer than a few days, or if it’s accompanied by other symptoms, a doctor’s visit might be in order. Otherwise, train hard, rest up, and enjoy the benefits of a harder, better, faster, stronger body. [resources] [item link="http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/17/soothing-sore-muscles-with-ginger/" title="New York Times — Soothing Muscles With Ginger"] It's not just for queasy stomachs anymore.