Why Are My Muscles Sore After a Workout?

Muscle soreness is caused by the tearing of your muscles as you exercise. This means you are getting stronger by stressing your muscles, so the fibers begin to break down.

Key takeaways:
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    Muscle soreness is caused by a tearing of your muscles as you exercise.
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    There are 2 types of muscle soreness: acute and delayed onset.
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    Let your body heal through rest, stretching, and self-care.
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    Prevent muscle soreness by staying hydrated, warming up, and easing into new workout routines.

When they start to repair themselves, they will become larger and stronger. This is where progress is made. It prepares your body for the next time you work out.

Let’s dive into all aspects of muscle soreness, how to get rid of it and how to prevent discomfort the next time that you work out.

Types of muscle soreness

There are two types of muscle soreness. The first is acute muscle soreness. This happens while you are working out. It’s from metabolites building up in your muscles during intense exercise. Typically, this type disappears as soon as you stop working out.

The second type is called delayed onset muscle soreness, also known as DOMS. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, “delayed soreness typically begins to develop 12 - 24 hours after the exercise has been performed and may produce the greatest pain between 24 - 72 hours after the exercise has been performed”.

Contrary to popular belief, DOMS is not due to lactic acid accumulation. It’s a side effect of your muscles repairing themselves.

To take it further, if you exercise too much or too fast, the pain can move beyond your muscles.

Your tendons, which attach your muscles to your bones, can become irritated. This can result in tendonitis or stress fractures in your bones. If untreated, this can result in the breaking of your bones over time.

You can also experience swelling in your joints from your cartilage wearing down. Cartilage is the white tissue on the ends of your bones that allows them to slide over one another. Functional problems in your joints can arise, such as swelling and pain as the cartilage wears downs.

What causes muscle soreness?

When force is applied to your muscles, they lengthen, causing muscle soreness. This will create tiny tears in your muscle fibers. Your body will respond with:

  • Increased inflammation
  • Stiffness in your joints
  • Tenderness to touch
  • Redness

Examples of exercises that can cause muscle soreness to include strength training, jogging, and jumping.

This can also happen when you start a new exercise for the first time, increase your workout intensity, or do not take a rest break while performing an activity repeatedly.

Consult medical treatment from a professional if your DOMS symptoms last longer than 7 days, if the pain becomes unbearable or if you experience serious swelling. If your urine becomes abnormally dark, seek medical attention immediately.

Getting rid of muscle soreness

Anyone and everyone can experience muscle soreness, including elite athletes. So what do you do when it happens to you?

Listen to your body. Give your body a chance to heal. You can apply ice or heat, take anti-inflammatory medicine, or get a gentle massage. Avoid NSAID-type pain relievers. These are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that may increase your risk of heart attacks, strokes, or gastrointestinal bleeding.

Opt for self-massage. You can use your hands, a foam roller, or self-massagers. Focus on the sore areas, such as your calves, arms, and glutes. Consider using oils or creams to target sore muscles.

Focus on increasing your circulation. Sending oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to your healing muscles will wash away the pain. You can also improve your circulation by increasing warmth or wearing compression clothing.

Take a bath. A 10 - 15 minute cold bath or a long soak in a warm tub with Epsom salts are both helpful in easing DOMS. The magnesium in the salt will reduce your soreness and can improve your muscle function.

Keep moving. Try light stretching, gentle yoga, or low-impact movements.

Sleep is imperative. Aim for at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep to recover after an intense workout. Sleeping is when your body can restore and rebuild.

How to prevent muscle soreness

While muscle soreness is not entirely preventable, there are steps you can take to make it less intense.

If it hurts, stop doing it. Discontinue the movement until your body has had proper time to heal. Switch your focus when you feel pain or discomfort. For example, if your lower body is sore, the next day, focus on upper-body workouts.

Always stay hydrated. Water flushes the toxins out of your body, regulates your body temperature, and transports nutrients into your cells. Your muscles are also more susceptible to soreness and tension when dehydrated.

Warm-up using dynamic stretching. This means working through your joint’s full range of motion through active movements before adding additional weight.

Start slow. Work your way into a new workout program. Slowly increase your intensity and use self-care while your body is healing.

Other options are eating within a half hour of an intense workout, getting adequate sleep, and trying a light workout the day after.

Do not let muscle soreness deter you from working out or trying a new exercise. Listen to your body. Take care of yourself and practice self-care when you experience muscle soreness.

As your muscles adapt and it will get easier with time!


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