Muscle soreness is something many people experience for a couple of days after exercising. When the activity has been particularly intense or you’ve been unusually inactive beforehand, it can even last as long as five days. This ache is often referred to as Doms (delayed onset muscle soreness), and this annoying pain can cause people to avoid training and exercise until it has completely subsided, for fear of injury or intensifying the soreness. Luckily – or maybe unluckily – you needn’t wrap yourself in cotton wool or avoid all activity until you feel 100% again.
Here are the 9 things to know about Sore Muscles
You Can Minimize the Pain
The concepts your high school gym teacher tried to instill in you ring true today, Crockford says “Proper hydration, exercise nutrition, and a cool-down with static stretches can help.” Then it’s time to rock and roll.
“Foam rolling [see a demo of foam rolling here] increases circulation and may help begin the repair process sooner. After a heavy resistance training workout, foam rolling doesn’t eliminate soreness, but it does limit it and decrease total recovery time,” Stull says.
And it can’t hurt to pre-game with a cup of java. University of Georgia researchers found that consuming the caffeine equivalent of two cups of coffee an hour before exercise can reduce later soreness by almost 50 percent.
You Can Have Too Much of a Good Thing
Just like most of us, muscles whine when they’re asked to work harder than they’re accustomed to. “Muscles get sore when they’ve been stressed,” says Kyle Stull, MS, National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) faculty instructor in Dallas. “This stress is actually a great thing because it results in adaptation over time.” Still, “soreness shouldn’t be so severe that it forces you alter your normal activities,” he says.
It Doesn’t Need to Happen Right Away
“Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is the common name for this type of 36-hours-later soreness,” Stull says. It’s most often felt after heavy strength training, especially if you’re concentrating on the eccentric (lengthening or negative) portion of a lift—for example, when you’re lowering your arms back to your body after curling a bar to your chest in a biceps curl. Calcium is released from the muscles, which sends a “WAKE UP!” message to pain receptors. “DOMS can occur any time you try something new or push harder than before, though,” Crockford says.
As much as you want to, don’t sit still! “Most of the time, the first ‘ouch’ comes after someone has been sedentary for a number of hours, whether that’s at the office or sleeping. Contractions of skeletal muscles—like those caused by walking—keep fluids moving and circulating, which can help with repair,” Stull says. The moment you sit still, your ticker is only body part pumping’ and all that repair is a lot of work for one muscle to handle! “The more you can get up and move in the 24 hours after an intense workout, the better,” he says.
If pain lasts longer than two days, it could be an injury rather than post-workout pain. “Some people like the sore feeling since it makes them feel like they accomplished something. And that’s fine. But for the average individual, pain is not a good thing. It could actually end up causing future injuries due to muscle imbalances and overcompensating,” Stull says. If you’re feeling achy on day three after a couple days of rest, ice, and recovery, try easing back in with your normal routine, as the American Council on Exercise recommends. But stop if your muscles don’t begin to loosen up or if they start to feel worse.