Here’s What It Means When Muscles Are Sore To The Touch
After hitting it hard in the gym or finishing that speed run, we often feel sore after a good workout. Many people actually like to feel a bit sore the next day because they know that they did work out that specific muscle group well. Mild to moderate sore muscles is nothing a little stretching or moving around again can’t fix. But then there is the level of soreness that makes us not even want to move. We are talking about that feeling when the muscles feel so sore just by being touched. Yes, without even moving a muscle.
What exactly is going on when this occurs?
For starters, we must clarify that we aren’t talking about muscle pain. Soreness and pain are two different things. It’s normal to feel sore after an aggressive workout. It’s not normal to feel sharp or pulling pain—especially during the workout. If the pain doesn’t go away after 72 hours, a bigger problem like tendinitis or a stress fracture could be the cause.
Training for a half marathon means logging in at least three runs per week (one long run), plus cross training. For this runner, this typically includes a spin class, kickboxing, and swimming. But strength training is also important which is why I recently took a power weight lifting class offered at my gym. This was the third time taking the class, so I knew what to expect—the deadlifts, power cleans, squats, bench presses and everything in between. I still remember how it made me sore the next day, and I say that class always makes me “hurt so good.”
While I enjoy challenging myself and workout out my muscles in a way that running does not (while making me improve my running), I do tend to only attend this class on occasion. This is mainly because of how sore it does make me feel. Looking to build my muscles, I decided to check it out again. And I was not disappointed with how good it made me feel after.
But this recent go at it also caused me to be sore to touch the following day. Instead of being achy when bending over or going up the stairs, just having my toddler climb over my legs made me wince. It wasn’t pain, but rather an extreme soreness that left my muscles feel tender when touched.
Completing half marathons didn’t cause me to ever be this sore. This was muscle sensitivity to the next level. And just like that, the next day after feeling like the way I was back to feeling a moderate amount of soreness. Then I was good as new.
Sore To Touch Muscles
I couldn’t be alone feeling this intensity of muscle soreness. In fact, it is actually very common. This is called delayed onset muscles soreness (DOMS). Symptoms include muscle soreness, but also sensitivity to touch, as well as stiffness or weakness. It occurs as soon as 12 hours post-workout, but generally 20 to 72 hours after.
DOMS is just part of the muscle rebuilding process. It is caused by trauma and microscopic tears in the muscles and associated tissues from intense exercise because the muscles are working harder than normal. The soreness and other symptoms like being sensitive to the touch should subside within three to five days (or can be as lucky as this runner and be back to normal two days post workout).
The good news is that the more the athlete does this new activity or the same intensity, the risk of getting DOMS decreases. This is thanks to muscles conditioning.
But Is This A Bad Thing?
Many think this amount of soreness is caused because of lactic acid build up. This is a myth.
This level of tenderness can be part of the fitness process as gym goers try new workouts or progress in their fitness journey. DOMS generally won’t cause serious damage, but if the pain is serious consult a doctor because this isn’t DOMS.
Extreme DOMS from too much exercise can cause serious problems. Also, consult medical attention if the aches continue more than a few days or if it gets worse.
Muscles are too sore when touched forget about it for even moving more. But light exercise can actually increase recovery time. This doesn’t mean go for a long run or go back to that intense class. This includes things like walking or swimming.
Sometimes resting is just what the doctor ordered. Take a rest day—a complete day off from exercise—when the body needs it. Ice baths, massages, foam rolling and ibuprofen also can help.
Prevent getting DOMS the next time means gradually increases weights when lifting, go slower downhill running or slowing increasing the intensity of a particular workout over time.