Why do muscles get sore after a workout?


The day after a workout is always the hardest to over-come. Ironically enough, it is not the leg day or the abs day you despise so much but the repercussions of a tough workout the next day. You might have made a new year’s resolution to get fit this year but after a few trips to the gym, you found yourself aching and unable to move. So what does it exactly mean when your muscles ache after an intense workout? Is it a sign that you should give up? Or Is it an indication that you might have gone too far?

On the contrary, muscle soreness after a strenuous workout is a sign of your muscles strengthening. Typically, muscle soreness lasts only for a couple of days. Routine exercise might seem especially difficult with sore muscles but rest assured, if you’re able to pull through, you’ll find your muscles feeling relaxed. But you may still wonder, why it happens in the first place?

During exercise, the muscles contract and relax to support the elaborate movements of a workout. However, continuous movements for a prolonged period of time may overtire your muscle, leading to muscle soreness. This typically occurs when the physical activity is carried on for a longer time or the intensity of which has been increased. Muscle soreness is more commonly referred to as DOMS, Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.


There has been speculation as to why DOMS occurs. The buildup of lactic acid, until a few decades ago, was a well-established and believed ideology. The Lactic acid supposedly made your muscles acidic, causing them to retire and not contract properly. However, it was later found that the molecule Lactate, a principle molecule in lactic acid, tends to make the muscles less acidic. Countless studies after that have proven that muscle soreness, at its height, was experienced by the volunteer’s immediately after a workout. Surprisingly, at that interval of time, Lactic acid levels in the muscles were the lowest.

So what can be blamed if not lactic acid, you may wonder. Unfortunately, there lacks a conclusive argument. But it is widely believed and agreed upon that due to vigorous exercise, microscopic tears form in the muscle tissues. These tears draw blood towards themselves, causing inflammation and slight swelling. This alerts and stimulates the pain receptors, thus making that muscle, more susceptible to soreness. Micro-tears in muscle fibers, surely, sound worrisome but it’s temporary and the muscles begin repairing themselves shortly. This is why DOMS only last for a couple of days as the muscle eventually builds itself back again with increased strength.

Even if DOMS is harmless and temporary, there is no denying that it causes extreme discomfort and restricts movement, in especially worse cases. Consequently, making you wonder, how do I relieve myself of the discomfort caused. Yoga and stretching have been proved as an assured way to reduce the severity of muscle soreness. Along with that, bathing in Epsom salts or warm water has been found to relax muscles and improve circulation. You must also remember to increase the intensity of your workout gradually, instead of all at once. This helps the muscle tissues become better used to the intense movements. Lastly, you must hydrate yourself to replenish your electrolytes and keep a balanced diet, rich in vitamins and minerals.

While DOMS lasts 2-5 days, at maximum, if severe ache exceeds that time mark, you may want to contact your doctor or chiropractor. Discoloration, severe cramping, intense swelling, and sharp pains, if experienced and continued for more than a couple of days, must be looked at.                      


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