What Causes Muscle Soreness After a Workout?

Soreness is typically loved or hated. Soreness can be a sign of an amazing workout for some people. However, soreness is almost unbearable for others. Moreover, what makes one workout cause soreness, but not others? First, let’s find out what happens in the body during a workout.

What Happens When We Workout?

Chemicals are the currency of the human body. Chemical energy is what fuels our workouts. First, we have to eat so our bodies can have energy. We convert that food into chemical energy by breaking down carbs, fats and proteins. Then, we use the chemical energy to perform daily tasks. For example, getting out of a chair or running on a treadmill. In fact, physical activity provides the greatest demand for energy in the body. The more intense the workout, the more energy is needed. Energy output from active muscle can exceed 120 times their resting values during intense exercise like sprinting or swimming.

Exercise-Induced Muscle Soreness

Exercise-induced soreness develops during or right after a difficult workout. During light exercise the body makes enough enough energy to meet the demands the muscles. One the other hand, during intense exercise the body is not able to keep up with demands. The muscles are using energy at a quicker rate than the body can make it. This causes a substance called lactic acid to accumulate in the blood. Lactic acid is responsible for muscle burning during that intense workout.

Exercise-induced muscle soreness is a fleeting pain that stops when the exercise is stopped. But, it can still leave you barely walking out of the gym on leg day! Importantly, this soreness maybe be avoided by a post-workout cool down period. A cool down period gives the body time to get rid of lactic acid. During your cool down, don’t forget to breathe and hydrate!

Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness

Delayed-onset muscle soreness is commonly known as DOMS. Most people have experienced DOMs after an intense workout or strenuous activity. Unlike exercise-induced soreness, DOMS doesn’t come on until about 2 days after the workout. In fact, DOMS pain usually begins 12-24 hours after exercise and peaks 48-72 hours later. DOMS is characterized by a loss of motion and loss of strength.

Any type of activity that places a large load on a muscle can lead to delayed onset muscle soreness. Not much is known about DOMS, but most believe soreness develops from microscopic damage to the muscle involved the exercise. Additionally, the severity of soreness depends on the type of strain placed on the muscle.

It can take 1-10 days to fully recover from DOMS. While recovering, it is recommended to perform gentle stretch and ROM as much as possible.

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Check out our series on creating an exercise program if you aren’t getting sore from your old workouts anymore or check out some of our favorite exercises on Instagram!

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Please, call us to schedule your evaluation at one of BeneFIT’s locations, Bridgewater (908.203.5200) or Chester (908.879.5700)  with one of our highly trained Doctors of Physical Therapy!