The muscle soreness after workout, also called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) or muscle fever, is the stiffness and pain felt in the muscles the day after a good, intense training. It especially occurs when you start a new exercise program or when you abruptly increase the duration or intensity of the workout. It is usually felt most strongly 24 to 72 hours after the workout, but it may also occur only hours after the exercise.
It is a symptom of muscle damage, but this is the kind of damage you want your muscles to have. The pain is a normal answer to increased effort and is part of the body’s adaptation process that eventually leads to increased resistance and strength, once the muscle recovers.
There are three types of muscles in our body: the cardiac muscle, the muscles on the level of our blood vessels and the striated muscles attached to the bone. Muscle soreness only affects the latter. DOMS only appears once the exercise is over.
This differentiates this type of pain from acute pain caused by muscle pull, for example, which appears suddenly during the activity and can be accompanied by tumefaction or bruises.
Perceived as an aching, dull pain, muscle soreness is often combined with tenderness or stiffness. The pain is not continuous, it’s felt only when the muscle is stretched, put under pressure or contracted, not when it is at rest. Continued use of the sore muscle does not increase the muscle damage, nor does it adversely affect the recovery from soreness.
What causes this muscle fever?
Basically, the fact that you started to use the muscles more than they are used to, or for different types of movement leads to their responding to the “change”. When the muscle is stressed more than usual, there occur ruptures within the muscle tissue, hence the pain. This soreness does not involve the rupture of the entire muscle fiber, the muscle tears as a consequence of the effort you subjected it to, and the pain signals the fact that the muscle is recovering, “patching up” the tears and growing (which is exactly what you intended with your workout).
The intensity of the muscle soreness after workout varies from individual to individual, depending on the shape the muscles are in and the intensity of the workout. When you start working out, you will definitely feel this muscle fever, but as you advance with your training, you will notice that there is no more pain after the same set of exercises, perhaps not even if you increase the intensity of the workout.
This means your muscles have grown and adapted to the stress you subject them to. If you want them to grow at a faster pace, you need to find new ways to stimulate them, either by starting training with weights and increasing the weights gradually, or by changing the exercises so as to include other range of muscle movement.
The type of muscular contraction also seems to be an important factor in DOMS. Eccentric exercises (during which the muscle lengthens while contracting, like lowering a weight) cause the most soreness, while concentric exercises (the muscle shortens while contracting, like a biceps curl) cause much less. Eccentric contractions generate more small lesions on the level of the muscle than concentric exercises. Thus, the exercises that involve more eccentric contractions, such as running downhill, climbing down stairs, lowering weights, will generate the most severe muscle soreness, even if there is no “feeling of burning” on the muscular level, while you perform the movement.
Muscle soreness recovery
There is no muscle soreness relief method that has proven 100% efficient. In the past the recommendation was to do some gentle stretching before training, but studies have proven it’s not really effective. Don’t panic, DOMS is a good thing, it means your muscle is growing, and the good news is the pain will definitely go away in a matter of days.
If you would like to get rid of the muscle fever sooner, here some useful tips to remove muscle soreness after a workout. These are methods that have not been entirely proven by science, but that seem to work for some. With a little bit of luck, you’ll find a method or two that work for you too. However, this muscular fever could be a sign that you need to rest and let the muscles grow for a couple of days.
- Use a foam roller after the exercise;
- Don’t forget to properly warm up before a new training. The muscles that have not been properly warmed up and are suddenly subjected to intense effort are more likely to become sore after the workout;
- Take an ice bath after the workout, or perhaps the opposite, a hot water bath will work better for you. A 15 minutes hot bath with salt is great for relaxation and reduces muscle soreness;
- Make sure you drink plenty of water, eat plenty of carbohydrates to provide the muscles with the needed fuel;
- Aspirin, naproxen sodium or ibuprofen; anti-inflammatory pills may temporary reduce the soreness; Vitamin C helps the affected tissue recover;
- Sports massage; a light massage of the affected muscles stimulates the white cells in the blood that fight against inflammation;
- Light stretching exercises to get the blood flowing through the affected area. Stretch your muscles until you feel a light discomfort and keep that position for 10 to 30 seconds;
- Rest. Wait for the pain to completely go away before your next workout;
- Be patient: your muscle soreness will definitely disappear in 3 to 7 days without any kind of treatment
Building muscles is a process of adaptation. The muscle soreness after workout is normal, there is no need to worry and luckily the pain is a tolerable one. It does not have any long term negative effects. Be careful though, certain muscle pain may be a sign of injury. If your muscle soreness does not go away within a week you should see a physician about it.