The answer may be delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It can reduce your range of motion and muscle strength and occurs 24-48 hours after you try new activities/exercises or increase your workout intensity. It’s a sign that your muscles are adapting to new loads.
There is a myth that DOMS is caused by lactic acid build-up. But lactic acid only lasts in your muscles 1-2 hours after a workout. Resistance training causes micro-tears of muscle fibres, drawing increased blood flow and inflammation to the area, even leading to mild swelling, which stimulates the pain receptors in the muscle tissue and makes them more sensitive to movement.
The muscle damage is temporary. As muscle rebuilds itself, it gets stronger and can handle heavier loads.
How to deal with muscle soreness
Although DOMS is a natural process that indicates your body is getting stronger, you can reduce the discomfort. Here are some tips:
- More exercise is the best way to relieve DOMS! Do a gentle workout such as light cardio, stretching or yoga a day or two after an intense workout. Pick up the intensity once the pain is gone.
- Introduce new exercises over a period of one to two weeks to give your body time to adapt.
- Try longer warmups before your resistance training.
- Take an Epsom salt bath. Epsom salts are made from magnesium, which helps relax muscles and improve circulation.
- Mix up your routine. If you do leg exercises one day, work your arms and core the next. This gives each muscle group time to recover.
- Remember to drink plenty of water and replenish your electrolytes with a balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables. Leafy greens and bananas are two excellent options.
There are a few indicators that your pain can be something more serious than DOMS:
- The pain does not diminish after three days.
- The pain is so severe that you cannot carry on with daily tasks.
- The pain is so severe that your legs give out.
- You experience major swelling, redness, discolouration, or intense cramping.
- The pain is very sharp – this could suggest a sprain/strain.
If you are concerned about any of the above, your chiropractor can conduct a thorough assessment and offer non-pharmacological pain management strategies, stretches, or manual treatments. You will be referred to the appropriate medical professional if the cause of pain is out of scope of chiropractic care.
This blog post was originally published in March 2018 and updated in February 2020.