What Causes Sore Muscles?
I woke up this morning and I could hardly get myself out of bed. Why are my muscles so sore? It feels like someone was beating me with a bat all night long. Sound at all familiar? I’m sure you know what I’m talking about as it has probably happened to you before – you exercise or do some strenuous work and wake up the next morning with sore muscles – even thought your muscles weren’t sore the night before.
You may be experiencing something known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (or DOMS). Whatever exercise, activity or project you did, you tried to do too much, too quickly. Now, you have the sore muscles to deal with.
What causes sore muscles?
Theories on the cause of muscle soreness have evolved over the years. Just a few short years ago, lactic acid would have been blamed as the culprit for those aching muscles. However, that theory has all but been dismissed today.
During high levels of physical activity (i.e. exercising and/or weight training), your body produces lactic acid because the muscle’s demand for oxygen gets too high and the blood cannot deliver all the oxygen it needs. In order to produce energy needed for the muscles to function, the body begins a process that works without that oxygen and its through this process a byproduct is created: lactic acid. The lactic acid builds up and gets locked inside your muscles and since it is an acid, it has the ability to cause a burning sensation within your muscle‘s tissue.
For many years, lactic acid build up was thought to be the cause of sore muscles. Today, new science has proven that this is not totally correct. The results show that lactic acid does not remain in the muscles for any length of time. Lactic acid is completely washed out between 30 and 60 minutes after the physical exertion (workout, exercise, etc). With most muscle soreness being noted 24 to 36 hours after the exercise, the cause of sore muscles isn’t a result of lactic acid in the muscles.
Research has indicated that the cause for sore muscles is micro-trauma to the muscle fibers. When you overdue any physical exertion, whether it be during work or play, you do some localized damage to the muscle fiber membranes. This damaged muscle can then become inflamed, which can cause soreness in your muscles.
Some other factors which could cause sore muscles include:
- Damaged muscles release chemical irritants, which can irritate pain receptors.
- There is an increase in blood flow to the area because of the increased activity of the muscle. This increased blood flow can cause swelling, which can irritate pain receptors.
Just remember, whenever you overdo an exercise or over exert yourself physically, there is the possibility you won’t wake up feeling like superman. You will wake up because your muscle fibers have microscopic tears due to being fatigued from the exercise, and thus are swollen and sore.
By moving the sore muscles, you can gradually return them to their normal state. Don’t try to exercise at your previous intensity, though, since the damaged muscles have lost some of their strength. Give the muscles some time to heal before attempting to exercise or work at the same level that originally caused the muscle soreness.
How do I avoid sore muscles?
While there is no “cure” once you have sore muscles (other than time), there are tricks to help you avoid sore muscles:
- Make sure that you stretch and warm up properly before any physical activity. Stretch and cool down at the end of the activity. This will help you avoid the sore muscles in the future.
- When you exercise, gradually increase the intensity of the workout. This will allow the strength and endurance of your muscles to grow.
- Make sure that you are using the correct form when exercising, as incorrect posture and positioning can cause sore muscles.
The best way to think of sore muscles is to equate it to an injury. When you are injured the only way to recover is to rest. You cannot push yourself or you will cause more damage or even more serious injury. The same holds true with your muscles. You do not have to stop activity completely, but you will have to rest for several days in order to give the muscles a chance to heal.