You want to feel the burn during and after a good workout. It’s a sign you’re getting fit. However, you might not want to feel it the next day, and the next.
Muscle soreness that starts 12 to 24 hours after a strenuous workout is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Until this century, scientists believed this was caused by a buildup of lactic acid.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), we now know that DOMS “develops as a result of microscopic damage to muscle fibers involved in the exercise.”
DOMS isn’t necessarily bad. It actually reduces your chance of developing soreness with that same activity in the future. But it can also be a sign that you’re pushing yourself too hard, which could put you at risk for injury.
In rare and severe cases, DOMS can cause muscle breakdown and even kidney damage. It also hurts and makes daily activities more difficult until you recover.
How can you treat, or better yet, prevent muscle soreness after a workout?
Ease Into New Workouts
A good workout should put stress on your muscles, but too much stress too fast makes it harder for them to recover. When beginning a new exercise program, start slowly and allow your muscles time to adapt to the new stress.
“No pain, no gain” is a myth. According to the ACSM, “pain does not need to be present to achieve gains in fitness status, and pain may indicate a need to reduce or refrain from an activity.”
Take Time to Recover
Give muscle groups a day or two to recover between workouts. You can still do cardio and strength training on other muscle groups in the meantime.
Warm Up and Stretch
Neither of these activities prevent DOMS symptoms, but they can reduce your risk of injury.
How to Treat Muscle Soreness
Feeling sore after your last workout? To minimize the symptoms, you can:
- Apply ice to reduce inflammation
- Get a massage or tender point acupressure
- Take over-the-counter pain medications such as Tylenol, ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin
- Stop strenuous exercise until you’ve recovered
- Keep moving to minimize stiffness (just don’t do anything that hurts)
Muscle soreness usually goes away after a few days, and your body will be better prepared the next time you work out. If you’re still sore after a week, or if you’re in debilitating pain, you might have an injury that requires medical attention.
Contact your doctor right away if you experience dizziness or difficulty breathing, numbness or tingling in the affected muscle or joint, dark urine, or fever. These aren’t normal DOMS symptoms and could suggest more serious problems.
Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.