Fitness Articles

Smart Ways to Soothe Sore Muscles

Decode, Treat and Prevent 5 Common Types of Post-Workout Pain


5 Types of Muscle Soreness

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
Called DOMS for short, this is the soreness you're probably most familiar with. It's what you feel when you get out of bed the next morning after a tough workout. This type of muscle soreness begins 24 to 48 hours after your workout and actually indicates a natural adaptive process that the body uses after an intense exercise session. When you do a new or particularly challenging workout, your muscle fibers tear on a microscopic level. It takes time for your body to repair that muscle, which is why you may feel this type of lingering soreness for up to 72 hours after that hard workout. Sometimes, you may even feel sorer on the second or third day after your tough workout than you did on the first. The good news? Once you get through this bout of soreness, that same activity shouldn't make you that sore (or sore at all) because your muscles will have gotten stronger and will be better able to handle that particular challenge.
How to prevent it: For a long time, fitness professionals believed that stretching would prevent DOMS, but current research is mixed on that. Stretching is great for a myriad of reasons, and you should continue to stretch and properly cool down, which is also believed to help prevent DOMS. But when it comes to avoiding DOMS entirely, your best bet is to progress slowly and steadily into your exercise program so that your muscles are gradually challenged and can build over time.

How to treat it: There are differing opinions and research on this topic, but a number of things may give you some relief from those post-workout muscle aches including massage, icing, gentle stretching, an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory (always consult your doctor), and yoga. Unfortunately, nothing has concretely been proven to reduce how long the soreness lasts, but try a few of those things to get some relief.

What not to do: Don't be a couch potato! Sure, your body needs rest, but performing active recovery, such as walking or yoga, is better than just sitting on your duff. Active recovery is beneficial after a hard workout—just a little bit of physical activity will help increase circulation which, in turn, helps speed muscle recovery. Just be sure to keep it low-impact, low-intensity and pretty short—no longer than 30 minutes are needed to get the results.
Long-Term Muscle Soreness
Sometimes you might be sore for longer than 72 hours after a workout. If you are, this probably means that you really pushed yourself, did a completely new activity, or haven't exercised in a long time. This muscular soreness feels much like DOMS, just more severe, and indicates that your body needs additional time to repair those muscles.
How to prevent it: Like DOMS, prevention comes by slowly easing into your workout frequency, intensity and duration.

How to treat it: Use the same treatment options as general DOMS, and engage in easy active recovery such as walking, light swimming or yoga. If the soreness lasts more than five days, consult your physician.

What not to do: Do not do a hard workout or skimp on sleep. Give your body ample time to repair itself with active recovery, and plenty of good sleep to recharge those batteries!
Muscle Cramps
At one time or another, you've probably experienced a muscle cramp in your calf, foot or hamstring. Muscle cramps are basically sudden, involuntary contractions or spasms. They most commonly occur after exercise or at night and can last from a few seconds to several minutes. Muscle cramps can be caused by nerves that malfunction due to a health problem such as a spinal cord injury or a pinched nerve in the neck or back. Most muscle cramps have far less concerning causes like straining or overusing a muscle, dehydration, a lack of minerals in your diet, a depletion of minerals in your body, or low blood flow to your working muscles.
How to prevent it: Eating a healthy, nutritious diet and taking a multivitamin can help, as can making sure you're drinking enough water. Regular stretching and not overdoing it in your workouts will help prevent muscle cramps as well. Replacing lost electrolytes during prolonged (greater then 90 minutes) workout sessions is also helpful.

How to treat it: Cramps can be very painful, but stretching or gently massaging the muscle can relieve the pain. If you're in the middle of a workout and a cramp comes on, stop if necessary until it subsides; just be sure to monitor how you're feeling overall as suddenly stopping during exercise can cause lightheadedness or fainting.

What not to do: When your muscle is cramping, the worst thing you can do is flex it. Flexing that muscle only increases the strength of the cramp and causes you more pain. Instead, elongate the muscle to stretch it out. For example, when you get a cramp in your calf, your instinct may be to point your toes but instead, just pull the toes of your foot up, giving the calf muscle a nice stretch. Continued ›
‹ Previous Page   Page 2 of 3   Next Page ›
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!

About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites, and A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.

x Lose 10 Pounds by January 22! Sign up with Email Sign up with Facebook
By clicking one of the above buttons, you're indicating that you have read and agree to SparkPeople's Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy and that you're at least 18 years of age.