Understanding Delayed Muscle Soreness

If you exercise properly, you are supposed to work hard enough to damage your muscles so they feel sore on the next day. This is called delayed-onset muscle soreness. You should then exercise at reduced intensity for as many days as it takes for the soreness to go away.

An article from St Mary’s University College in New Zealand reviews scientific studies on exercise-induced muscle damage (Sports Medicine, December 2008). When muscles feel sore from exercise, they are swollen and leak proteins from inside their cells into the bloodstream, and they cannot generate their usual force. You really have no choice. You must put far less pressure on sore muscles or you will injure them, delaying recovery and your ability to exercise intensely again.

Sore muscles heal faster if you take the next day off, but exercising gently during recovery will make your muscles more fibrous so they can withstand more pressure when you take your next intense workout.

Eating foods with protein and sugar within four hours after you finish a hard workout helps muscles recover faster. The sugar raises insulin levels which helps to drive protein into the muscle cells to promote healing.

Aspirin and nonsteroidals such as ibuprofin may help reduce muscle soreness, but they can delay healing. Stretching and massage make your muscles feel better but there is little evidence that they make you recover faster. Studies of electrical muscle stimulation and cold therapy (ice packs) are so inconsistent that most exercise researchers do not recommend them. On the other hand, virtually everyone agrees that each bout of intense, muscle-damaging exercise followed by reduced intensity exercise makes muscles stronger.


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