Anyone who has exercised a single time in their lives is familiar with the muscle ache that comes the day after an intense workout.
Even though I have been working out for years and started doing some serious weight-lifting over a year ago, I still do get sore every time my workout intensity/routine/weight changes (yes, it happens to the best of us :p).
Why does it happen?
So why do we get sore? Putting your muscles under tension during exercise causes tiny cuts in muscle fibers which then prompt the body to rebuild those muscles, making them bigger & stronger. Soreness post-workout is a natural sign that your muscles are benefitting from your hard work. It is still debatable whether this is due to the build up of toxins & lactic acid in the muscles which can cause inflammation, knots & stiffness in the affected area. Other possible causes are connective tissue damage, muscle spasms & realease of enzymes.
Soreness vs. Injury
Muscle ache or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) usually starts 12 to 24 hours post workout and can last 3 to 5 days. Here’s how I usually feel:
- Day of workout – tired, beginning to feel the muscles tighten
- Day 1 post-workout – wake up with mild to severe muscle ache
- Day 2 post-workout – wake up & struggle to get out of bed 😀 (basically very painful DOMS)
- Day 3 post-workout – the pain starts to subside and the affected area can return to normal full range of motion
- Day 4 post-workout – back to normal in most cases
On the other hand, if you experience sharp pain, either during workout, with certain everyday movements or constantly, you may have injured yourself. Swelling that does not go down for more than 10 days, especially around joints, is another symptom you should be weary of.
There are a number of ways you can help your body recover. First and foremost do make sure you are not injured, keeping in mind that DOMS can be very painful too but is not a health risk. Then have a look at the list below, these are just a few tips from my experience:
- In the first 24 hours post-workout make sure to rest & use ice if there is any mild swelling;
- Use heat to relieve tension and stiffness in the days following the workout – tiger balm creams & patches, hot baths and hot water bottles can be of great help;
- Make sure to stretch & foam roll prior to your next workout, you can also use a small ball (e.g. Tennis ball) to dig deeper around the affected area;
- Don’t stop exercising, but also don’t work out the part which is aching – focus on other muscles instead;
- Certain nutrients & supplements can help too: magnesium is well known for reducing muscle ache, whereas ginger & turmeric can help reduce inflammation.
Finally, remember that the more you workout the more your body gets used to the stress & tensions of exercise and the less pain you will experience in the days after your workout.