Many gym enthusiasts wear post-workout soreness as a badge of honor, but sometimes pain after an intense workout isn’t a good thing. While next-day soreness is usually a sign of future muscle growth, gym-goers should be aware of the signs of good and bad soreness, and what to do when the soreness becomes overwhelming and how to reduce the chances of muscle fatigue.
Recognizing Good vs. Bad Muscle Pain:
Experts like to refer to the good kind of workout pains as delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS for short. DOMS often occurs when you begin a new workout program, or you increase the intensity or duration of your training. When you push your muscles to new heights, the muscle tissues actually experience tiny tears. Those microscopic tears explain the pain you may be feeling 24-72 hours after your workout, and the good news is, when the pain subsides, your muscles will have undergone a transformation to become stronger and more adaptable. Thus, because they have gotten stronger, once you return to the same exercises, your muscles will not be as sore.
DOMS can be identified by the following features: it usually will take 6-8 hours for pain to begin, DOMS will typically cover larger areas of muscle rather than acute spots, and will begin to diminish within 2-3 days. If your symptoms do not sound like this, you may be experiencing “bad” muscle pain and should discontinue your exercise regimen until after consulting with a doctor. Be on the watch for the following warning signs of bad muscle soreness which could lead to injury:
- Bad pain is not bilateral, meaning that you experience the pain on only one side of your body (ex. your right hamstring is sore, but not your left)
- Bad pain is sharp, sudden and usually occurs before you even leave the gym
- Bad pain often happens in joints
- Bad pain is recurring
- Bad pain can shoot from one body part to another (ex. you may experience a sharp pain from your shoulder that extends to your glutes)
How to Treat Muscle Soreness:
If the soreness is debilitating, consider a lower impact workout for a few days like swimming, walking or yoga. While your muscles are recovering, you can try foam rolling, self-massage, gentle stretching, and icing or heating to aid the healing process.
If the soreness is manageable, feel free to keep up your workouts at the same pace. The beginning of your workout will be painful, but if you can bear it, the pain should subside within a few minutes. If the pain does not diminish within a few minutes of working out, consider taking a break from your usual intensity. Always listen to your body to avoid injury and be on the lookout for signs of bad workout pains.
How to Avoid and Reduce Muscle Soreness:
- Alternate strength and cardio days
- Wear compression garments
- Stay hydrated
- Start every workout with a slow warm up to encourage oxygen and blood flow to cold, resting muscles and joints
- End workouts with a cool down and static stretches
If you have questions about your workout plans or proper techniques, feel free to ask Dr. T during your next visit.
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