What Causes Muscle Soreness?
If you are sore after working out, you might
wonder what is causing you to ache. It is widely believed that muscle pain
and soreness after working out is caused by a build up of a muscle
by-product known as lactic acid. This by-product builds up and irritates
muscles until it is “sweated out” through the skin or otherwise removed (a
hot bath with baking soda is recommended for leaching the acid out). Over
the past few years, though, we have learned that this is not true.
Muscle soreness after working out is caused by
micro-trauma to the muscle fibers. This micro trauma (caused by working
hard) causes calcium molecule leakage from these muscle fibers as well as an
accumulation of histamines, potassium, prostaglandins, and local edema. The
painful sensation come from pressure placed on the muscles due to fluid
retention in the muscle area. The localized edema (fluid retention) puts
pressure on the muscle’s nerve endings, causing a sore sensation. The
soreness is not caused by damage to the muscle itself (except, perhaps, if
your muscles are not sore, but in extreme pain).
The muscle soreness that you are feeling could
be an indication of muscle growth. Light training in the same exercise as
well as stretching sore muscles can help to decrease the soreness. It is
also okay to train and/or use your sore muscles, even before they feel
totally better as long as you do so with caution and care. Damaging muscles
seriously will not lead to gaining strength. Improvement in muscle
performance (this means increased strength, control and endurance) comes
from stress and recovery.
So should you stop before you “feel the
burn”? Research indicates that you should not unless you are not looking to
improve. When you work your muscles hard, your body goes to work about
eight hours later. Your cells release cytokines that cause inflammation
(and soreness), increased blood flow (redness) and increased fluid flow in
the damaged area (causing swelling). The cells around the damaged area
release factors to encourage tissue growth to heal the damaged muscle
fibers. Muscle fibers become larger each time, and sometimes grow in number
by splitting to create new fibers.
Eventually your muscles will not be sore
anymore from the same old routines. You may be thinking that this is a
great thing, and you are partially right. Your muscles have grown to the
point where they are no longer overworked and therefore damaged with
micro-tears from your regular workout routine. If you are happy the way you
are, then keep up the routine and revel in the lack of pain. This will only
ever be maintenance routine, however, from the time that pain and soreness
cease. As you read above, muscles grow by building upon damage caused by
You will never become stronger by performing
the same routine that has stopped causing you to become sore.
Now that we have told you what a great thing
it is to be sore, here are a few things that you can do to at least reduce
the pain. Warm up before your workout and cool down afterwards. Stretch
when you are finished. Start a new exercise gradually and build up. Avoid
making sudden major changes to anything in your routine. Introduce new
things slowly and work up to your max.
Are you already sore? Avoid vigorous activity
that causes pain, and use the RICE method if you are very sore. Do some low
impact aerobics to help increase blood flow. Gently massage the affected
muscles, and stretch them gently, too. If your pain is bad, try taking an
anti-inflammatory painkiller like ibuprofen. And the best thing you can do
for a sore muscle? Give it time to heal.