Managing and Avoiding Muscle Soreness After Exercise

Many of us have experienced it: the cramps, pain, and aches after a hard session of exercise. Whether it’s in the legs, arms, or elsewhere, muscle soreness can range from the relatively gentle to the intense and uncomfortable. Muscle soreness after exercising is extremely common, but why does it occur, and how can you avoid it?

What is muscle soreness after exercise?

Muscle soreness after exercise is known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS is any muscle soreness that happens around six to eight hours after your workout, and it typically peaks a day or two after your training session. Usually, the pain starts to diminish around 72 hours after your exercise session, but timeframes can vary greatly depending on the individual.

DOMS often happens when you start a new fitness regime or increase the intensity or volume of your workout. If you’ve gone from inactivity and not exercising to adopting a new exercise program, you could also experience DOMS.

Symptoms or manifestations can include muscle discomfort, reduced range of motion, joint stiffness, swelling, tenderness, and compromised muscle strength. Sensitivity to touch is also a common symptom. These symptoms usually start gradually after your workout.

The real causes of muscle soreness

It’s often believed that DOMS is caused by lactic acid build-up in the muscles, but in reality it results from microtrauma or microscopic tears in the muscle and connective tissue during ‘eccentric exercise’. Eccentric exercise refers to movements that involve muscle lengthening, such as lowering dumbbells back to original position in a bicep curl, or lowering down into a squat or push up position.

While it’s termed microtrauma, it’s not necessarily a sign of muscle damage, and experts suggest soreness might be necessary to stimulate protein production and muscle growth.

Being fitter generally means you’ll be less susceptible to the symptoms of DOMS. However, DOMS can manifest very differently from individual to individual, which means two different people following the same workout regime can experience very different DOMS outcomes.

Is DOMS a sign of a good workout?

Some people believe that experiencing the symptoms of DOMS is a sign that you’ve worked out sufficiently. According to experts, this is not necessarily true. If you don’t experience DOMS, that doesn’t mean you haven’t worked out intensely enough. While soreness is common for up to three days afterwards, if you try to do the same workout and can’t because of muscle failure, you’ve likely worked out too intensely.

How to deal with and avoid muscle soreness

There are many strategies for dealing with muscle soreness, and these range from getting sports massages to temporary pain relief.

  •      Ease into exercise – Easing into exercise and workouts, rather than starting on an intense workout regime from a baseline of inactivity, can help you avoid sore muscles altogether.
  •      Keep working through it – Health science experts suggest that the best thing anyone free of injury could do for DOMS is to keep working through it. After a workout, your muscles are building up to be bigger and stronger than before, which means they will be more resistant next time. Rather than become inactive for days after you start to feel DOMS, continuing with light activity will help you recover faster.
  •      Sports massage – A sports massage could help alleviate the symptoms of DOMS by moving the fluid and blood around your body more effectively, in order to heal the microtrauma in your muscles.
  •     Temporary pain relief – Temporary pain relief such as creams and oral medication like Herron can allow you to get on with your day more comfortably.

Other strategies for dealing with DOMS include foam rolling, taking contrast or hot-cold showers, and using Epsom salt baths. You could also supplement with omega-3 fats to lower inflammation, and develop good sleep habits to aid recovery. Some research suggests that saffron supplementation could also help with DOMS. Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine or dietary supplementation regime.

The role of stretching

Note that that while stretching is always beneficial, pre-workout or post-workout stretching might not be that useful for preventing or managing DOMS. Experts suggest that you stretch for other reasons, such as increased flexibility.

Always read the label. Use only as directed. Incorrect use could be harmful.  For the temporary relief of pain and fever. If symptoms persist consult your healthcare professional.

Disclaimer: The Herron blog is interested in general community wellbeing and information, and does not imply that Herron products should be used for serious ailments without the advice or recommendation of your healthcare practitioner.

All information presented on the Herron website is meant for general knowledge and never meant as a diagnosis of prescription. Please always contact your doctor for health related matters.