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Why Are Our Muscles Sore After A Workout?

That stiff, sore feeling after an intense workout is a side effect of the body's muscle rebuilding process. But just because it's natural doesn't mean there aren't ways to manage post-workout pain.
Why Are Our Muscles Sore After A Workout?
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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 [1].

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 [2].

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 [3]. 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 [4]. 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 [5] [6]. 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. 

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Works Cited +

  1. Exercise-induced muscle damage in humans. Clarkson, P.M., Hubal, M.J. Department of Exercise Science, Totman Building, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, USA. American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2002 Nov;81(11 Suppl):S52-69
  2. The mode of myofibril remodelling in human skeletal muscle affected by DOMS induced by eccentric contractions. Yu, J.G., Fürst, D.O., Thornell, L.E. Department of Integrative Medical Biology, Section for Anatomy, Umeå University, Sweden. Histochemistry and Cell Biology. 2003 May;119(5):383-93.
  3. Delayed-onset muscular soreness and plasma CPK and LDH activities after downhill running. Schwane, J.A., Johnson, S.R., Vandenakker, C.B., et al. Medicine and Science Sports Exercise. 1983;15(1):51-6.
  4. Using recovery modalities between training sessions in elite athletes: does it help? Barnett, A. Centre of Excellence for Applied Sport Science Research, Queensland Academy of Sport, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Sports Medicine. 2006;36(9):781-96.
  5. Sprint Cycling Performance Is Maintained With Short-Term Contrast Water Immersion. Crampton, D., Donne, B., Egana, M., et al. 1Department of Physiology, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland 2Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood 3125, Australia. 2011 April 14. Epub ahead of publication.
  6. Short term effects of various water immersions on recovery from exhaustive intermittent exercise. Pournot, H., Bieuzen, F., Duffield, R., et al. Research Department, National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance (INSEP), 11 avenue du Tremblay, 75012, Paris, France. Research Department, National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance (INSEP), 11 avenue du Tremblay, 75012, Paris, France.

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