Have you been hitting the gym again with COVID restrictions easing? Or getting back into running, cycling, or playing team sports?
As many of you might’ve experienced, the inevitable muscle soreness that comes after a break can be a tough barrier to overcome.
Here’s what causes this muscle soreness, and how best to manage it.
What is muscle soreness and why does it occur?
Some muscle soreness after a workout is normal. But it can be debilitating and deter you from further exercise. The scientific term used to describe these aches is delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, which results from mechanical disruption of the muscle fibres, often called “microtears”.
This damage causes swelling and inflammation in the muscle fibres, and the release of substances that sensitise the nerves within the muscle, producing pain when the muscle contracts or is stretched.
This pain usually peaks 24-72 hours after exercise. The type of exercise that causes the most muscle soreness is “eccentric” exercise, which is where force is generated by the muscle as it lengthens — think about walking downhill or the lowering phase of a bicep curl.
There’s good news about this pain though. When the muscle cell recovers from this “microtrauma”, it gets stronger and can produce that force again without the same damage occurring. So although this strengthening process is initially painful, it’s essential for our body to adapt to our new training regime.
The inflammatory component of this process is necessary for the muscle tissue to strengthen and adapt, therefore the repeated use of anti-inflammatory medication to manage the associated pain could be detrimental to the training effect.