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How to Prevent and Treat Muscle Soreness Featured

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muscle_sorenessManaging Muscle Soreness

Sore muscles are a common side effect of exercise. Muscle soreness is an annoying problem that can continue for several days after exercising. For people who are unaccustomed to exercise, muscle soreness can be an unexpected experience that may discourage many of them from exercising again.

In managing muscle soreness, it’s helpful to understand how and why muscle soreness occurs and knowing that sore muscles are usually nothing to worry about.

What is Muscle Soreness?

Muscle soreness is also called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). DOM is when the muscles begin to feel sore and stiff after exercise, typically between 24 and 48 hours later.

What Causes Muscle Soreness?

It's normal to have sore muscles after working out, exercising, or even doing housework, especially if:woman-sore-neck

  • You’re doing an activity you're not used to.
  • Suddenly kicking up your exercise intensity level or increasing the length of your workout.
  • Doing eccentric exercises, in which you lengthened instead of shortened your muscle (like walking downhill or extending your arm during a bicep curl).

These changes to your exercise routine can lead to tiny injuries called microdamage in the muscle fibers and connective tissue. This is referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness, which peaks within 48 hours and then will gradually get better.

Is Muscle Soreness Serious?

Muscle cells repair and regenerate themselves in the days that follow intense exercise, and they get stronger in preparation for performing the activity again. After this recovery process, the muscles function more efficiently and are more resistant to damage. This process is known as adaptation. Once the muscles become accustomed to an activity, they have a degree of protection and soreness is minimal.

Muscle soreness is not serious, does not need medical attention, and gradually goes away by itself. However, it is unwise to exercise with a serious injury. If muscle pain comes on quickly and feels intense it’s a sign that you've injured yourself. Call your doctor if your pain is severe or lasts for more than a few days.

Why Does Muscle Soreness Increase with Age?

As people age if they don’t regularly move their muscles and joints through their full ranges of motion, they lose some of their movement potential. What happens next is that the muscles become shortened with prolonged disuse and produces spasms and cramps that can be irritating or extremely painful. The immobilization of muscles brings about biochemical changes in the tissue.

Two main factors that trigger muscle soreness:

  • Inactivity: Connective tissue binds muscle to bone by tendons, binds bone to bone by ligaments, and covers and unites muscles with sheaths called fasciae. With age, the tendons, ligaments, and fasciae become less extensible. If they are not stretched to improve joint mobility, the fasciae shorten, placing undue pressure on the nerve pathways in the muscle fasciae. Many aches and pains are the result of nerve impulses traveling along these pressured pathways.
  • Immobility: Sore muscles or muscle pain can be excruciating, owing to the body's reaction to a cramp or ache. In this reaction, called the splinting reflex, the body automatically immobilizes a sore muscle by making it contract. Thus, a sore muscle can set off a vicious cycle pain.

First an unused muscle becomes sore from exercise or being held in an unusual position. The body then responds with the splinting reflex, shortening the connective tissue around the muscle. This causes more pain, and eventually the whole area is aching. One of the most common sites for this problem is the lower back.

Treating Sore Muscles

One big question a lot of people have when they're nursing sore muscles is whether to use heat or ice. Experts say indirect ice is best for immediate relief. Heat will feel good while it's on, but it's not going to lessen the damage or make it go away anytime soon. Ice the sore area right after the activity to reduce inflammation, then apply heat later to increase blood flow to the area.

If you get sore muscles once in a while, you can take a couple of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) or aspirin to help relieve the discomfort. Just be cautious about using these drugs regularly. Long-term NSAID use can interfere with your muscles' ability to repair themselves. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is another over-the-counter option for pain management.

Preventing Sore Muscles

Get in a good warm-up before you start exercising and then stretch after exercising, when your muscles are warm. To help prevent muscle soreness ease your way into your exercise routine. Start off with a lighter exercise and gradually build up. Then you're much less likely to cause the microtrauma.

A couple of natural substances have been touted for preventing sore muscles, including antioxidants like vitamin C. Serious exercisers might find relief from post-workout soreness by beefing up on protein. A study found that taking protein supplements reduced sore muscles after intense exercise.

Bottom Line on Managing Muscle Soreness

What matters most is that you get and stay fit by exercising regularly. Once the muscles become accustomed to exercising, they’ll have a degree of protection and muscle soreness will become minimal.

Last modified on Tuesday, 09 April 2013 00:28
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