Muscle Soreness - Klodjan Muskaj MS, CSCS

Muscle soreness is an occurring event to anyone who has been involved in an athletic event, or a workout for the first time. In more advanced individuals, muscle soreness results from exhaustive, or very high intensity workouts. Post-exercise soreness is generally referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It appears 24 to 48 hours following exercise.

This article will explain how DOMS occurs, why it is not good, and how one can prevent it.

The most commonly believed cause of DOMS is lactic acid accumulation in the muscles. I do agree that lactic acid builds up during exercise, but at the peak of DOMS (24-48 hrs), there is no trace of lactic acid in the muscles. Blood and muscle lactate levels typically return to normal values 30-60 minutes following exercise, so the lactic acid theory is not accurate. Many studies have shown, the true cause of muscle soreness to be damage to the muscle and connective tissue. During strenuous exercise it is believed that muscles are not getting enough time to fully separate from their connected state, therefore it is causing microscopic tears in the muscles.

Some believe if they are not sore after a workout, they did not do any work. This statement is not true. The goal of an exercise session, depending upon the individual's goals is to either lose fat mass, increase muscle mass, or improve overall quality of life. Let's just take a guess and say we have around 10 systems in our body working on achieving that goal. If an individual worked very hard the first time and become very sore, 8 out of 10 of those systems are working on repairing the muscle instead of working on individuals goals. 

How do we know if we got enough work in an exercise session? We have to work just enough to feel it a little the next day, but not too much where we are unable to move.  It is not easy to find that sweet spot, that is why individuals should choose qualified professionals to program their exercise sessions.

There are many treatment strategies have been introduced to help alleviate the severity of DOMS and to restore the maximal function of the muscles as rapidly as possible.  Treatments vary depending upon the individual and their resources provided. They include but are not limited to cryotherapy, stretching, anti-inflammatory drugs, ultrasound, electrical current techniques, homeopathy, massage, compression, hyperbaric oxygen and exercise. R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compression and elevation) is the most common treatment method for soft tissue injuries used among physical therapist, athletic trainers, and along the treatment industry.

The least discussed subject in muscle recovery is nutrition, but I will save that for the next article. The most common analogy I use is by asking if a car can run without gas, if the car won't run on empty, then how can we expect our bodies to give results if we don't feed it. The most effective treatment that I have found while working with athletes is foam rolling, body tempering, stretching, and always working on mobility and active recovery.