Revealing The Myths of Muscle Soreness.

What factors cause muscle soreness and how to prevent it?

You’ve made the decision to focus on becoming healthier, and one of your first steps is to begin an exercise regimen. Your very first workout is a huge success, and you feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment as a result. That is, until the next morning when your muscles are so stiff and sore that you have trouble even moving a bit. Many of us have experienced the aching, painful, jelly-leg sensation that develops. And then you ask yourself did I do too much?” This is the case is known as muscle soreness. Learn how this happens and how to prevent or manage this soreness in this article.

What is Muscle soreness? When you exercise, you put stress on your muscles, which can make them sore. People often call this Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS, and it is normal. DOMS usually starts between 6 and 8 hours after a new or different activity, and it can last up to 24 to 48 hours after the activity. Muscle pain is caused by inflammation, which is one of the main reasons these muscles are sore. DOMS may affect everyone, including pro athletes, beginners, and those who haven’t exercised in a long time.

Most likely, you’ll feel muscle soreness during one of the following:

  • Beginning a workout or exercise program for the first time
  • Adding a new workout or activity to your routine
  • Adding more intensity to an exercise, you are already doing (increasing the amount of weight lifted, number of repetitions, or speed)
  • Repeating the same thing over and over without taking enough breaks

What’s the Difference Between Soreness and Pain?

                         Muscle Soreness                                   Pain
  • Muscle soreness might occur when you begin to exercise muscles that have not been stressed in a long time.
  • This discomfort is from “tearing/stress” on underused muscle fibers.
  • It stays for a maximum of 72 hours or around.
  • Pain from an injury is usually in a certain part of the body, like a tendon or a joint.
  • It can be stronger and last longer than muscle pain.
  • It can be a persistent “ache” (with or without movement) or severe pain during or after movement.
  • If you have discomfort and rest or sit for lengthy periods, your joints or muscles may stiffen.
  • Pain from an injury may not resolve on its own.

Science Behind Muscle Soreness.

According to research, muscle soreness is also known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness DOMS (begins 6 to 8 hours following a new or changed activity and may last for up to 48 hours) results from a cascade of physiological responses to the microscopic injuries endured during severe activity. This cascade involves muscle inflammation in reaction to microtrauma.

As our bodies engage in strenuous exercise, we start breathing more rapidly in an effort to transport more oxygen to our working muscles. The body prefers to generate most of its energy aerobically or using oxygen. Certain activities, such as lifting weights, need an increase in the oxygen delivery rate to our cells. In such situations, working muscles produce energy anaerobically. This energy is derived from glucose via the glycolysis process, in which glucose is converted into pyruvate through a sequence of stages.

When oxygen is insufficient, the body converts pyruvate to lactate to continue glucose breakdown and energy generation. During this period, lactate levels might rise, and muscle cells can produce anaerobic energy for one to three minutes. These high lactate levels cause muscle acidity, increasing muscle pH from 7 to 5.5 and causing metabolic disturbances. In an acidic environment, glucose metabolism is impaired. This is a natural bodily defense mechanism that slows vital systems to avoid irreversible harm during intense activity.

Once the body slows down, oxygen becomes accessible, and lactate reverts to pyruvate, enabling aerobic metabolism and energy for recovery. After muscle injury, inflammation and electrolyte buildup occurs. 2016 research in Frontiers in Physiology found that the immune system sends T-cells to injury locations.

But lactic acid isn’t the culprit basically, lactic acid is created during exercise when the muscle continues to break down glucose after all available oxygen has been utilized, it doesn’t induce discomfort after exercise. The Physician and Sportsmedicine released research proving it. Volunteers ran 45 minutes on a level and a downhill treadmill. Before, during, and up to 72 hours after the runs, they assessed the participants’ blood lactic acid content and asked how painful they were. Even though their lactic acid levels were lowest, the participants were sorest after jogging downhill. Researchers found no link between lactic acid and exercise-induced muscle soreness.

The good news is that natural muscular discomfort indicates that you are gaining strength and there is no need for fear.

2003 research published in the journal Sports Medicine discovered that this is true for both athletes and players as well as amateurs. During exercise, muscle fibers begin to degrade as they are stressed. As the fibers undergo self-repair, they become bigger and stronger than before. Muscular contractions generate tiny tears along with the muscle and adjacent connective tissues. These minute rips do not cause discomfort immediately. Instead, the discomfort is a byproduct of the muscle regeneration process. Normal muscular fatigue and soreness peak between 24 and 72 hours following a muscle-stressing exercise. It should vanish on its own after a few days.

However, this does not even suggest that you should repeat the same exercise. Always try to engage in different sets of muscles each day so the already exhausted muscles get the time to repair. Jump up to learn more about which exercise to do for specific needs.

What Affects Muscle Soreness?

Most able to abandon your stumbling and aching around the following day are workouts that emphasize eccentric activities. There are two stages to strength exercises:

muscle soreness
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The concentric (the muscle-shortening phase, often the lifting portion) and the eccentric (the phase when the muscle is lengthening, typically the lowering part). The eccentric phase is when muscle fibers are truly torn, yet it is also when your muscles are operating at their best. (Downhill running may also be considered eccentric activity, therefore DOMS is more likely to develop after it as well.)

Muscle soreness is more probable if you use unfamiliar movement patterns, activate smaller muscles, or stress the muscles more than they’re used to or prepared for. That may entail a virtual boot camp session with plenty of lateral lunges, eccentric biceps curls, or greater volume (sets and reps) than you’re accustomed to.

Soreness With Aging.

As we have understood that muscle soreness and recovery of it is a gradual process. But why don’t children feel no sore despite being super active and why do the elderly get exhausted very easily?

  • Soreness in Young Children. It really doesn’t happen in children. The research, published in Frontiers in Physiology, examined how fast kids, untrained men, and endurance athletes’ muscles exhausted and recovered. It showed that the children do not deal with muscle soreness as athletes or adults do. Children have less developed anaerobic systems than the usual adult… Therefore, they do not create a great deal of lactic acid and do not contract after repeated bouts of exercise. The research also revealed that the children’s blood removed lactate quicker than that of endurance athletes, enabling them to recover more rapidly.
  • Muscle Soreness in Older Adults. Your muscle fibers grow less dense as you age, making them less elastic and more susceptible to injury and soreness. As they become less robust as you age, resulting in a longer time required for muscle recovery. As per research, it is because the chemical signaling channels in muscles grow less effective as individuals age, making it more difficult to create muscle and retain strength. Learn more about it and how to prevent it in this article.

When do we start having sore muscles? Dr. David W. Kruse, a sports medicine expert at the Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, California, advises that around the age of 50, you may need extra recovery time between exercises.

Is it ok to do exercise with muscle soreness? In general, it is OK to exercise with some degree of muscular soreness. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, if you have severe muscle soreness — that is, if you have difficulty performing daily activities such as walking down the stairs or lifting your arm — engaging in vigorous exercise can make your symptoms worse and should be avoided until you feel better.

How to Prevent/Treat Muscle Soreness?

For Muscle soreness, time is the best treatment, but there are things you can do while you’re waiting for your muscles to heal to ease the pain and stiffness. Several studies have shown that the medications and self-care techniques listed below may help alleviate pain. However, more research is going to go deep into treating and preventing this discomfort.

exercise in muscle soreness

  1. Exercise and Repeat.

The most effective technique to alleviate muscular soreness is to engage in some gentle workouts, such as walking or mild stretching. It may seem paradoxical, but the more you move, the quicker the pain will go. It is suggested to divide the exercises into several days and keep consistency. It has been studied that due to the repeated bout effect, the more you do an activity, the less pain you will be in. After a few repetitions of a workout, your body adapts such that your muscles are less harmed the next time you do it.

2. Analgesics. 
  • Topical Analgesics. These are pain-relieving medications applied to the skin. Topical analgesics including menthol and arnica may help alleviate the discomfort of DOMS according to research. Products like these may be administered directly to the sore region. It is always suggested to read the application directions on the label to determine how much product to use and how frequently.
  • NSAIDs. According to a study released, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil) are ineffective in alleviating DOMS discomfort. However, they may inhibit your muscles from developing larger and stronger again. Short research published in the August 2017 edition of Acta Physiologica revealed that taking the maximum dose of over-the-counter ibuprofen slowed young adults’ muscular and strength gains throughout an eight-week resistance training program. More research is going to clear the doubts about these painkillers having an effect on muscle soreness.
3. Nutrition.

Following a balanced diet and eating before and after exercise aids in workout recovery and keeps the metabolism revved up. You may choose to boost your protein consumption throughout the day as you age since older individuals need more protein than they did earlier. According to a June 2016 analysis published in Nutrients, muscle tissue becomes less protein-responsive with age, although ingesting additional protein may help counteract this decline.

Protein and aging specialists advise senior persons to consume between 1.2 and 2.0 g/kg/day of protein or more. 

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, fruits, vegetables, and legumes are essential for providing your body with healing-promoting vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C and zinc.

4. Hydrate!

Hydration is essential. Instead of chugging water at the end of the day, hydrate throughout the day. It is also beneficial for the elderly because of their physiology, older people dehydrate faster. Water helps your body break down meals into energy. Water helps control body temperature and blood volume, which is crucial for cardiovascular health. These factors may affect how you feel and recover post-workout and also can help with muscle soreness according to research.  Learn more about optimum water intake in this article here.

5. Massage.

Many studies have shown that a massage 24 to 72 hours after a strenuous activity reduces muscle pain considerably, compared to no massage at all. After an exercise, getting a massage 48 hours later was most effective. It won’t be possible to have a massage after every workout but self-massage can be done on areas such as the shoulder, calves, thighs, arms, and buttocks.

A review of the literature indicates that massage is the most effective post-exercise technique for reducing stiffness and exhaustion. muscle soreness and foam rolling

It has been studied that after an exercise, rolling out with a foam roller may help prevent muscle soreness. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy in November 2015 indicated that foam rolling might enhance range of motion and decrease DOMS. Like other forms of massage, it stimulates circulation to provide more nutrients and oxygen to the afflicted region, therefore reducing swelling and soreness.

6. Heat Therapy.

Post-exercise heat application, such as in a hot tub or sauna, may assist boost blood flow to your muscles.

Epsom Salt has been used for centuries to alleviate aches and pains. When dissolved in warm water, it decomposes into magnesium (which is essential for muscle repair and inflammation reduction) and sulfate. Increased blood flow removes waste materials from muscles and transports nutrients, and repairs cells. Another study published in Activity and Sport Sciences Review in October 2020 indicated that local heat stress might have beneficial effects on your muscles, such as reducing muscle soreness and the cardiovascular system after intense exercise. It has also been studied that moist heat wraps or a warm bath may help alleviate muscle soreness-related pain and stiffness.

7. Cold/ Cryotherapy.

Self-treatments using cold baths have gained popularity among elite athletes. A 2016 analysis of research indicated that a 10- to 15-minute swim in a cold-water bath (50–59°F or 10–15°C) reduced the severity of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

8. Stretching.

It has been suggested according to a study, to do static stretching either before or after exercise. Stretching may alleviate some of the pains in your muscles, and modest activity will get your blood pumping and assist reduce some of the discomforts. Other research showed that stretching and recovery had an influence on the decrease of DOMS following physical activity.

9. Anti-Inflammatory foods.

Fitness and healthy eating are inseparable. As a result, if you want to succeed in the workout, you must provide yourself with the correct foods that will provide you with energy, stamina, and the ability to recover from muscle soreness (DOMS). Some data show that consuming certain meals or taking particular supplements may help alleviate DOMS.

  • Whey protein-rich foods: cottage cheese, quinoa, beef, yogurt
  • Anti-inflammatory foods: Manuka honey, nuts (almonds and walnuts in particular), seeds, green leafy vegetables, blueberries, strawberries, oranges, and olive oil.
  • Antioxidant foods: Turmeric, green tea, pecans, kidney beans, Goji berries
  • Magnesium-rich foods: dark green leafy veggies, such as spinach, whole grains (brown rice and whole wheat bread), beans and nuts, and avocados.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines
10. Sleep.

Sleep is an undervalued component of muscle recovery. According to the National Institutes of Health, deep sleep stimulates the production of a hormone that increases muscle growth and aids in tissue regeneration. Chronic sleep deprivation may put these hormones out of balance and wreak havoc on everything from your heart health to your capacity to recuperate after rigorous exercise.

Another 2019 review of research published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that adequate sleep (defined as seven hours or more per night for most adults) can improve athletic performance in a variety of sports and exercises, including faster sprint times and more accurate tennis serves. According to recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation, healthy individuals need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night.

How Much Discomfort is Too Much?

Muscle soreness typically takes 24 to 48 hours to develop and peaks 24 to 72 hours after activity. Any severe muscular pain lasting more than five days may be an indication of serious muscle damage that exceeds what is favorable. The following points can also be considered,

  • The workout is excessive if the pain persists for more than 72 hours.
  • The workout is too strenuous if your discomfort hinders you from doing everyday living or working tasks.
  • However, if you are still in pain after 72 hours, you should rest since this indicates that your muscles are not recuperating. Soreness signals that your body needs more energy to heal and recover.

Muscle soreness is a part of life; however, there are strategies to lessen its severity. Don’t let the soreness and stiffness in your muscles stop you from getting the most out of your exercise. Follow the abovementioned suggestions and see if you notice a change during your next intense exercise!
And remember, do not exert yourself to the point where you risk damage. Take care of yourself – achieving fitness is a journey, and there is no need to hurry it!


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Being a Doctor by profession, Aimen is passionate about helping people get better health in their lives. Aimen enjoys her research on Prime With Time subjects and strives to create better awareness of the problems and changes related to women's health.
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