Exercise is great for overall health and fitness, but it can sometimes lead to a person feeling sore. This soreness may appear during the workout, or it may come on a day or two afterward.
Generally, soreness due to exercising is not a cause for concern, and people can often continue to do physical activity.
In this article, we look at why exercise results in soreness and offer some tips on working out while feeling sore.
Pain during a workout is usually due to a buildup of lactic acid in the muscles.
Under normal circumstances, the body relies on oxygen from the blood to break down glucose, which it uses as energy. During exercise, the amount of oxygen circulating in the blood drops. To compensate, the body begins producing lactic acid, which it uses as an alternative source of energy.
Exercise-induced hyperlactatemia (EIH) refers to an excess of lactic acid in the blood as a result of exercise. EIH can cause the following symptoms during or after exercise:
Although it can cause discomfort, people do not need to worry about EIH. Once the liver has broken down the excess lactic acid, the body then disposes of it, and the symptoms disappear.
Pain after a workout is usually due to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). The following factors may increase a person's likelihood of developing DOMS:
- starting a new exercise program
- changing a workout routine
- increasing the duration or intensity of regular workout sessions
- performing any type of physical activity to which the body is unused
Most experts believe that DOMS occurs as a result of microscopic damage to muscle tissues. This damage develops during exercise. According to experts, muscle soreness following exercise may be a side effect of the muscle tissue healing.
DOMS may involve additional symptoms, such as muscle stiffness and swelling.
The types of exercise most likely to result in DOMS are:
- strength training exercises
- walking downhill
- step aerobics
DOMS does not require any medical treatment. The soreness will go away by itself within a few days.
People should not let muscle soreness put them off exercise. It is worth noting that the effects of both EIH and DOMS fade as the body becomes more accustomed to working out.
In the meantime, people can try the following tips for preventing and alleviating muscle soreness. These should help make it possible for people to continue their regular workout routine.
Working out with EIH
A buildup of lactic acid in the muscles is harmless, but it can cause pain, cramps, or soreness during a workout.
Tips for preventing lactic acid buildup include:
- drinking plenty of water
- taking deep breaths
- dropping the intensity of the workout when soreness sets in
- stretching after a workout
After a while, the body will break down and dispose of any excess lactic acid. The muscle pain will then go away.
Working out with DOMS
Sometimes, muscle soreness makes a particular activity difficult or painful. If this is the case, a person should avoid that activity for a few days until their symptoms ease. Meanwhile, they can try exercising a different part of the body.
People can use at-home treatments to ease the symptoms of DOMS. The American College of Sports Science provide the following recommendations for reducing muscle pain and inflammation:
- applying ice packs to the affected muscles
- massaging the affected muscles
- taking pain relief medications, such as ibuprofen
In addition, the following tips can help people prevent DOMS:
- When embarking on a new exercise program, start slowly and build the intensity up gradually.
- Do not repeat the same activity or exercise every day. Allow the muscles time to recover.
- Warm up the muscles before starting a workout.
- Stretch off after a workout to help prepare the muscles for future workout sessions.
Muscle soreness, whether it occurs before or after a workout, is perfectly normal. It will get better as the person gets more used to exercise or their new routine.
Lactic acid allows the body to carry on making energy when strenuous exercise causes blood oxygen levels to drop.
DOMS is a side effect of the muscle healing process. As the body repairs the microscopic tears in the muscle, the tissue becomes stronger than it was before.
EIH is not dangerous.
The symptoms will go away on their own as the body breaks down and disposes of the lactic acid.
Anyone starting a new exercise program or increasing the intensity of their current routine is likely to experience DOMS.
However, pain is not essential to increase fitness. If pain is severe, it could even be a sign to slow down.
Soreness during exercise is perfectly normal. It is especially likely to affect people who are new to working out and those who are stepping up their routine.
Muscle pain during a workout is usually due to a buildup of lactic acid as the body's oxygen levels drop, and it is rarely a cause for concern. The symptoms of exercise-induced hyperlactatemia will go away on their own.
In most cases, muscle pain following a workout is a sign of muscle tissue repair. The symptoms of DOMS can be mild to severe, and they may last up to 5 days.