When Working Out is a Pain

( [email protected] ) Aug 13, 2004 12:49 PM EDT

Have you ever experienced an instant ache in your muscle during a workout? How about the soreness that suddenly appears two days after a workout? Each one of us at some point has been the victim of either of these two common conditions. The first is an acute, or short-term, muscle soreness which is quickly relieved. The second is a sudden yet persisting ache in your muscles which can throw off your regular routine and daily activities.

Acute soreness

Acute soreness is the ache you feel in the muscles during or immediately following a workout. This type or soreness is associated with an accumulation of chemical waste products that build up in the muscle tissue. The most common symptoms are pain, discomfort and fatigue in the specific muscle groups worked. The feelings usually subside within a couple of minutes. The condition is also aided by light activity which increases blood flow and helps remove the waste products. When the discomfort ends, regular activity or training may continue.

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)

DOMS is the more common condition that is experienced 24 to 48 hours after an exercise session. Characterized by a significant soreness, muscle weakness and stiffness, DOMS may last several days and continues regardless of further activity. While the exact causes of this muscle pain are unknown, two major factors have been examined.

Eccentric contractions

DOMS is most commonly related to strength training that involves a lengthening contraction, also known as negatives or actions in which a muscle needs to absorb force. The lowering phases of a bench press and of a biceps curl are two common examples of eccentric contractions. These contractions have a greater potential for strength gains than a concentric contraction (when the muscle is shortening), but they also stress the muscle and therefore may cause more tissue damage.

Tissue damage is a normal precursor to muscle adaptation and therefore relieves itself; however, too much damage will cause excessive soreness and discomfort. In your first workout session or when moving up to a new intensity level it is a good idea to have a partner help you with the eccentric or lengthening portion of the exercise.

Training stage

If you are a beginner or if you do not lift weights on a regular basis, chances are you have already experienced DOMS. The condition occurs when your muscles are challenged in ways they are not accustomed to. Muscles need time to adapt and should only be stressed when they are properly prepared.

Our sport-specific and general exercise programs include a solid warm-up followed by a stretching period prior to beginning a weight training session. Our programs also begin in an anatomical adaptation phase which focuses on preparing the muscles for the loads that will be later placed on them. If you have never lifted weights, begin with light loads of roughly 60% or less of your one repetition maximum.

Should you continue working out?

Blood flow to the skeletal muscle is decreased during DOMS, and may remain so for days. This, along with the stiffness and swelling associated with the condition, increases the amount of force normally required to extend a limb. As a result, performance deficits and an overall decrease in muscular force are apparent, and can last for up to five days. If you are planning to continue training it is best to do so with a light workout or, even better, simply continue with other body parts or general aerobic activity. High intensity exercises that stress the same muscle groups should definitely be avoided. Remember—pain is experienced for a reason; your muscles have undergone varying levels of tissue damage, give them a chance to recover!

Too late…how to get rid of the soreness?

Soreness will naturally subside within three to seven days without any treatment. However, if the pain is unbearable, try applying ice, gentle stretching, light massage and/or over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen.

Taking 100mg/day of vitamin C for a period of 30 days can prevent or reduce subsequent muscle soreness. To help prevent soreness you may also prepare your body with other essential nutrients. Complete the Truestar Nutrition Profile and the Vitamins Profile for additional information and for natural cures.