Woman or man, young or old, amateur or professional – probably everyone who’s ever been doing sports, in whatever form, is familiar with the muscle soreness emerging after a workout. We know the feeling very well, but how much do we know about its cause and source? Is it a serious medical condition? Is there a way to avoid it? What are the ways of dealing with it? And finally, what does it say about our workout plan?

The two possible causes

For starters some biological facts. There are two most probable sources of the post workout muscle soreness, by some researchers seen as two separate conditions. The first one is the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). As the very name suggests, the pain does not occur immediately, but around 24 hours after a workout and usually holds for two to three days. Another of the pain’s characteristics is that the muscles are especially tender when contracted or put under the pressure, but not when they’re at rest.

Researchers seek the causes of DOMS in the micro traumas within the muscle structure. While exercising, when the muscle is not able to generate the force sufficient to deal with the load that has been put on it, the muscle fibers do not shorten, but lengthen as they contract. The micro traumas are the result of such an eccentric muscle contraction.

The second possible source of the post workout muscle soreness may be the lactic acid secreted during the anaerobic work of the muscles. In other words, during strenuous exercises the muscles may not be provided with the sufficient amount of oxygen they need to produce energy. The by-product of the muscles functioning without the necessary oxygen is the lactic acid. The nerve endings within the muscles are irritated by the acid, which results in the muscle soreness.

The lactic acid, however, is not supposed to remain in the muscles for longer than a few hours. Therefore, the pain resulting from the lactic acid accumulation may be referred to as acute muscle soreness. The condition occurs during, or directly after, an intense physical activity and doesn’t last longer than several hours.

A quick cure for the soreness

Trivial for the more experienced, the post workout muscle soreness may be quite scary for the beginners. Yet, having learned about the mechanism behind the pain, and being aware that the discomfort will ease off after a relatively short period of time, you shouldn’t see it as a serious condition. It is hardly possible to avoid the suffering, especially if you are at the beginning of the sports path and your body hasn’t been used to physical effort.

Fortunately, though, there are some easy, well-tried ways to ease the pain and minimize the discomfort. Some of them are based on prevention, others on temporary treatment. Some may appear more effective for you than others – it’s an individual matter. Still, as you actually have nothing to lose, they are worth trying.

Firstly, always remember about stretching the muscles immediately after the workout. The stretching is to release the tension within the muscles. While stretching the muscles you will feel how they gradually relax. Additionally, you may also jog just for a few minutes; yet, try to relax the muscles while jogging: let the arms hang down along the body, and take little steps scraping your feet on the floor. It may look silly, but helps in releasing the tension.

Secondly, after the workout you could use a sauna visit or at least a hot bath. High temperature will stimulate the blood circulation, which will result in more efficient regenerating the muscle tissue and eliminating the micro traumas of the muscle fibres. A massage is another good way of reducing the muscles’ stiffness and stimulating the blood flow. And it doesn’t have to be a professional massage – simple pressing, or gentle pounding the tired muscles should also do the job.

Finally, don’t forget about proper hydration – water is necessary in the recuperation of the body after physical effort. It’s best to take the measures before the pain occurs. But you may also apply the sauna visit, bath, and the massage when the soreness has already appeared. It may relieve the pain for some time and will definitely speed up the process of regeneration.

How to get rid of soreness for good

The above tips are only a temporary solution. To get rid of DOMS in the long run you have to exercise regularly and carefully arrange your workout schedule. The muscle soreness will most probably emerge at the beginning stages of your workout plan, or after a considerable break from training, anyway. The muscles have to get used to the effort you put them through. It is crucial to start with a reasonable timing and intensity of the workout and then steadily increase the load, the number of moves and series, the time spent on the workout in general, and so on.

At some point of a well-planned workout schedule, carried out regularly, the soreness will stop occurring at all. Unless you introduce some new exercises. Each novelty may turn out to involve a muscle group that hasn’t been much worked out on before. That is why even professional athletes, engaged in regular training sessions, suffer from DOMS from time to time.

Regularity is the key to success here. Do not give up exercising while the muscles are still tender. A light workout will help accustom your body to the effort. You will feel discomfort at the beginning, but as you warm up well, it will pass. On the other hand, try not to overstrain yourself. All you need to do is persevere in following little steps while improving your muscles’ strength and endurance.

What is more, when the muscle fibres regenerate adapting for greater effort, they are reconstructed bigger and stronger. So the pain means there actually will be some gain. Keep that in mind next time you’ll be suffering from the muscle soreness after a workout session.

About Cathy Patalas

The sports soul and the alleged specialist in words of 52Challenges.com. The main 52C Blog writer. A diligent student at the English Department of the University of Wroclaw, majoring in applied linguistics. An ex-acrobat and aerobic gymnast with the 13-year long experience in „training for winning”. A multiple medallist of Poland nationals in acrobatic gymnastics, and academic nationals in aerobic gymnastics. A fan of gymnastics of every existing type. Personally, finds making everyday choices in a healthy lifestyle even more demanding a challenge than making everyday sacrifices in the athlete’s lifestyle.