are sore muscles a good sign

Are Sore Muscles a Good Sign Post-Workout?

Consistent exercise improves brain health, aids in weight management, builds immunity, strengthens bones and muscles, and improves our ability to perform day-to-day activities. But one of the more immediate effects of a workout, especially a challenging one, is sore muscles. This can be a (literal) pain to deal with.

Muscles can become so sore that it can be difficult to move. While the mantra, “no pain, no gain,” has become famous, it’s good to wonder, are sore muscles a good sign post-workout? Read on to learn what sore muscles are all about and what they mean.

What Causes Sore Muscles?

Sore Muscles

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Muscle soreness after a workout is due to minor inflammation and microtears in the muscles. Though you may worry, this is perfectly normal because it triggers your muscles to adapt and eventually heal from the exertion that you’ve subjected them to. In time, your muscles will get used to being challenged and become stronger.

Sore muscles after a workout can be delayed. The technical term for this is DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness. This is expected, especially if you performed exercise that engaged a new set of muscles or if you made your workout more intense than your usual routine by adding weights and/or performing more repetitions.

Since it’s something that you experience regularly if you work out consistently, understanding the reason behind the soreness is a good move.

So, why do your muscles feel sore after a workout?

#1. Your muscles experienced something new.

Getting sore muscles a few days after your workout means that your body underwent a new level of physical exertion. This is often due to performing exercises that are more intense. It can also happen if you stop working out for a week or two and do the same routine.

Muscle memory is how your muscles respond to all the resistance exercises you perform. Technically, your muscles can only be trained through consistent and repeated workouts.

These allow them to “remember” these boundaries and adapt to them. If you stop working out for an extended time, your muscles will need to re-adapt. One of the primary indicators of this is your sore muscles.

#2. Your muscles are confused.

Following a well-structured program is critical when working out. You can’t simply try a new routine just for the sake of it. While you want your workout to be fun and dynamic, changing your routine too often and before you’ve mastered the previous one can confuse your muscles.

If this happens, your body will find it difficult to adapt to these changes and stressors. Again, the key to an effective workout is consistency and a gradual increase in intensity, volume, and quantity — factors that are often taken into account in a good exercise program.

#3. Your post-workout routine needs improvement.

Working out entails a full routine that involves habits before, during, and after your exercise. If you don’t observe proper post-workout habits like getting good sleep, drinking enough water, and proper nutrition, your muscle soreness may be worse than necessary. Sore muscles may also be aggravated by pushing yourself too much too soon and exercising too much and too often.

Some believe that pushing their bodies to the point of soreness and exhaustion is a sign that they had a good workout. However, chronic pain and fatigue can eventually lead to injuries which can force you to miss out on regular exercise.

Are Sore Muscles a Good Sign?

Good Sign

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From a medical and professional perspective, sore muscles are a good sign. According to Dr. Corbin Hedt, one of Houston Methodist’s physical therapists, “Muscle soreness occurs because both muscle and the connective tissue around it get damaged during exercise. This is completely normal and, for the most part, nothing to worry about. This is how muscle strengthens since it builds back a little better each time.”

Soreness means your body is naturally repairing the minor injuries you sustained from pushing yourself. Hence, it’s generally a good thing as long as you pace yourself and don’t push yourself too hard.

Your body repairs itself by fusing the muscle fibers associated with these tiny injuries to eventually form new muscles. With consistency, a healthy diet, and quality sleep, your body, stamina, and strength will improve. You’ll also be in less pain as your body gets used to regular exertion.

This is what most fitness enthusiasts are hoping to achieve — small, manageable pain for bigger gains.

But then again, the soreness in your muscles doesn’t always mean improvement. It does not always indicate that your workout was good and that your muscles are getting stronger. It might be your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong.

Effective Tips to Heal Your Sore Muscles

Effective Tips

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Delayed muscle soreness can last from two days to weeks. It all depends on how your body copes and tries to repair itself. Over time and with a good exercise program, it should improve.

Muscle pain is uncomfortable. The sudden discomfort when you reach for something or notice limited mobility can be frustrating. What you can do is support your muscles so they heal better and faster.

Although there is no guarantee that these recommendations can shorten the time it takes to heal, they can definitely make you feel better.

#1. Embrace an active recovery approach.

There is a misconception that when your muscles are in pain, you should minimize movement until they heal completely. This is not completely true because an active recovery approach can make a huge difference.

Active recovery is when you use your muscles even if they’re sore. In the meantime, you can practice a lighter workout to keep them moving. By staying active, you can minimize the pain and heaviness in your muscles which feels better than not moving them at all.

Initially, start with some light exercise to engage your sore muscles. These activities include walking, a slow swim, and gentle yoga.

#2. Give your muscles some TLC.

Your sore muscles need extra care and attention from you, and there’s no better way to keep your muscles happy than with a gentle massage. You can use a foam roller at home or have someone massage them. The best option is to enlist the services of a professional massage therapist.

#3. Slowly stretch the kinks and knots of your muscles.

This is best done after your muscles are no longer very tender. Slowly stretch your hands, legs, and torso as you do when you’re warming up and cooling down. To experience less pain, the key is to do it slowly and take your cue from your muscles.

You may not be able to stretch as much because of the soreness but this is normal and you should listen to your body. Gently do a few forward bends, leg stretches, and other static stretches.

#4. Use cold or hot therapy.

Some prefer a cold compress while others prefer a soothing warm pad. In the end, it’s up to you which you prefer to use — both work and have their own benefits. Cold therapy decreases the inflammation surrounding the muscles while a hot compress helps remove the stiffness while increasing blood flow.

#5. Take a pain reliever.

As your muscles recover, consider taking a pain reliever to minimize the pain. Some options include acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen. Just don’t take them too often because using them regularly can affect your muscles’ natural ability to repair themselves.

When Should You Schedule a Doctor’s Appointment for Sore Muscles?

Schedule a Doctor’s Appointment

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Sore muscles after a workout should ideally resolve on their own in a few weeks, but again, be attuned to your body for any other symptoms you may experience.

If the soreness on your body is still the same after several weeks or is getting worse, consult your doctor. You have to consider the possibility that the soreness could be a symptom of an underlying medical concern like a sprain.

Additionally, the soreness in your muscles should allow you to do your usual activities. While there might be some discomfort and limitations, they shouldn’t reach a point where you are rendered incapacitated because that is a different story.

You should also keep an eye on other bodily changes like darker urine, fatigue, and muscle cramps. These symptoms along with sore muscles are signs of rhabdomyolysis, or rhabdo, something that intense workouts like HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and CrossFit can cause.

A Few Parting Words

After exercising, the soreness you experience is usually caused by micro-tears and inflammation of the muscle. It usually means that your muscles are being built back stronger. However, you can also help your muscles recover by changing the intensities of your workouts, performing mild stretches, getting a massage, and taking pain relievers once in a while.

As you get used to the exertion and the way muscles develop, the soreness will bother you less and you’ll be on your way to a stronger and healthier body.

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