Sore muscles after exercise are not a good or bad sign. It simply means you have worked your muscles to a point that was more than they are used to.
It is very common for you to experience muscle soreness after performing an exercise that is more challenging than usual or that is very different from what you’re used to.
Soreness is a sign that you haven’t worked the muscle in that way for quite some time.
Are sore muscles after exercise a good sign?
Sore muscles aren’t a good or bad sign. They are simply an indication that you have worked the muscle harder than you’re used to or are doing an activity that is new.
It’s actually a good sign when you do the same activities at a higher intensity (more difficult) and you have less soreness. This means that your muscles are adapting to the stimulus you are placing upon them.
Later on this article i’ll share with you how long soreness should last and what is too long.
What causes muscle soreness?
Summarizing the quote below from a scientific article published in 2018, the causes of muscle soreness are as follows:
- Eccentric muscle contraction. When the muscle is lengthening and contracting at the same time. An example of this would be your quadricep muscle
Said a different way…
Muscle soreness is the pain that occurs after exercising, because of microscopic tears in the muscle fibers.
The severity of muscle soreness is greater with eccentric exercises such as downhill running, where the muscles are lengthened under tension.
- Muscle soreness is more common when performing a new exercise routine or if one starts an intense training program.
Here is the quote from the pubmed article.
“Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a type of ultrastructural muscle injury. The manifestation of DOMS is caused by eccentric or unfamiliar forms of exercise. Clinical signs include reduced force capacities, increased painful restriction of movement, stiffness, swelling, and dysfunction of adjacent joints. Although DOMS is considered a mild type of injury, it is one of the most common reasons for compromised sportive performance. In the past few decades, many hypotheses have been developed to explain the aetiology of DOMS. Although the exact pathophysiological pathway remains unknown, the primary mechanism is currently considered to be the ultrastructural damage of muscle cells due to unfamiliar sporting activities or eccentric exercise, which leads to further protein degradation, apoptosis and local inflammatory response. The development of clinical symptoms is typically delayed (peak soreness at 48 – 72 h post-exercise) as a result of complex sequences of local and systemic physiological responses. The following narrative review was conducted to present an overview of the current findings regarding the damaging mechanisms as well as the pathophysiology of DOMS and its diagnostic evaluation.”https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30537791/
Why Does Muscle Soreness Happen?
As discussed above, muscle soreness occurs when you are performing a new activity that works the muscles past what they are currently comfortable with and is more prevalent with eccentric activity.
How long does muscle soreness usually last?
Muscle soreness generally lasts for 24-48 hours and often will intensify on the second day. This is known as delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS.
If the soreness lasts for longer than 72 hours and is still quite intense this is an indication that you likely pushed yourself a bit too hard.
This can be a good indication to go a little slower in your running, cycling, etc, or if it’s related to lifting weights, to use less weight, fewer reps, and build up at a slower and more gradual pace.
Remember, if you’re goal is to gain muscle and strength, this is a multi-month and year process. One extremely hard workout is not going to do it for you.
It’s better to be consistent with moderate intensity workouts than to do a vigorous workout that you need to take excessive rest from as you’re continuously sore and hurting.
One other thing to point out is that if you’re constantly sore this can affect your motivation levels.
As we discussed above, consistency is everything when it comes to reaching your strength and fitness goals, so choosing types of workouts that will sap your motivation are counterproductive.
Can muscle soreness be treated?
There are no current treatments that will make muscle soreness better, faster. However, you can use these modalities to make symptoms a bit better while your body does the rest.
Ice or heat is fine when it comes to muscle soreness. Ultimately, these are symptom modifiers, i.e. they make it feel better for a short time.
Tylenol and ibuprofen can help to reduce some of the pain associated with DOMS but they will not make you recover faster.
This is the main component to improving muscle soreness. You can’t rush recovery. Get enough sleep at night to where you feel rested, and give yourself 48-72 hours to recover and you’ll likely feel a lot better.
But what about professional athletes and their recovery protocols?
There is no evidence to support that ice baths, saunas, infrared saunas, compression + ice devices to anything additional to improve the speed of muscle soreness and overall recovery.
Professional athletes just have access to all of these treatments because there are millions of dollars on the line. Of course it makes them feel better in the moment but someone getting not treatment would feel the same 48-72 hours later.
There may be some placebo at play here, which is fine, but just know that’s probably what you’re getting yourself into.
Can I exercise if my muscles are sore?
Yes, you can exercise if your muscles are sore. If I were you I probably wouldn’t do another ultra-high intensity workout, however sometimes it actually feels good to get the blood flowing.
An example. I’m pretty sore right now from a workout I did two days ago. I’m planning on going for a run later today even though I am feeling sore. This is okay. I likely will not do a really high-intensity run and instead focus on getting the mileage that I need for my upcoming race.
Do Sore Muscles Mean Muscle Growth?
No, sore muscles do not mean muscle growth. Muscle growth is a result of several factors, the primary one being protein synthesis. This happens over the course of months and years, not one workout.
Are muscles weaker when sore?
If your muscles hurt it is common to not be able to perform at as high of a level due to pain. If there is pain, you won’t be able to output quite as much force, therefore, making the muscles “weaker.”
Strength is measured as force output which is determined by the amount of crossbridges formed at the muscle filament level.
Best pain reliever for sore muscles after working out?
As discussed above, ice, heat, NSAIDS (non steroidal anti inflammatory medications), and time, are ways to reduce symptoms in the short term. Time is the only thing that allows for the microtears at the muscle fiber level to heal and for the inflammation to decrease.