Here’s What It Means When Muscles Are Sore To The Touch
Sore muscles are caused by delayed onset muscle soreness, otherwise known as DOMS. Symptoms of DOMS include muscle soreness, sensitivity to touch, as well as stiffness or weakness.
Runners and athletes are familiar with that feeling. That feeling you get after an intense speed workout or a stellar HIIT workout, and every fiber of your being aches, and you just feel sore all over.
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. That should also sound familiar.
If you have leg day on Monday, your muscles will likely shout out reminders of that workout on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Guess what? That is perfectly normal.
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.
What exactly is going on when this occurs?
For starters, I really want to clarify that I’m not talking about muscle pain here. Soreness and pain are two different things. As you have probably figured out, it is normal to feel sore after an aggressive workout.
What is not normal is to feel sharp or pulling pain—especially during the workout. If the pain doesn’t go away after 72 hours, a bigger problem could be the cause.
What Causes Muscles to Be Sore?
Sore muscles are caused by delayed onset muscle soreness, otherwise known as DOMS. Symptoms of DOMS include muscle soreness, sensitivity to touch, as well as stiffness or weakness. DOMS can occur as soon as 12 hours post-workout but often happens anywhere from 20 to 72 hours later.
DOMS is just part of the muscle rebuilding process. The intense exercise causes trauma and microscopic tears in the muscles and associated tissues because the muscles are working harder than normal when you engage in intense exercise.
How Long Does Muscle Soreness Last?
The soreness and other symptoms like being sensitive to the touch should subside within 3 to 5 days. It should be mentioned that some athletes luck out, and their DOMS fades away more quickly.
DOMS is more likely to occur after a new, intense form of activity. The good news is that the more the athlete does this new activity or the same intensity level, the risk of getting DOMS decreases.
Thanks to muscles conditioning, your body acclimates and is less likely to have these negative effects.
What is the Fastest Way to Get Rid of Muscle Soreness?
When your muscles are sore to the touch, you probably think it is unlikely you could finish a workout. But light exercise can actually increase recovery time.
I do not suggest you go for a long run or head back to that intense HIIT class that has you sore. If you are looking to recover, you should find light, low-impact activities 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.
What Helps Muscles Recover Faster?
If you are hoping to speed up your recovery, the best thing you can do is to be proactive. In other words, set the stage for recovery before, during, and post-workout.
- Cool Down: An active cool-down is a great way to help your muscles recover properly.
- Massage: Treating yourself to a massage is another great recovery tool.
- Foam Roller: Use your foam roller post-workout to help yourself work the kinks out.
- Heat and Ice: Using heat then ice on sore muscles can help with recovery. Heat increases the blood flow. Using both heat and cool can prevent elastic tissue damage.
- Compression Gear: Wearing compression gear can help you recover. It’s not just for during the workout!
- Sleep: Getting enough sleep plays a huge role in recovery. Remember: it’s a big picture.
- Antioxidants: It is not enough just to eat healthy, although that helps. A diet that includes antioxidants will help your body heal.
- Hydration: For so many reasons, proper hydration is important. Water is your friend, folks.
Is It Okay to Exercise with Sore Muscles?
How do you know which type of soreness should be worked through and which type needs rest? If it sounds complicated, it is because it can be.
Believe it or not, good pain does exist. When you get out of bed and hurt, just slowly get moving. If things loosen up as you work your way through the morning, you can very likely work through discomfort.
My personal rule of thumb is that I can get a workout in if I limber up throughout my morning ritual.
For example, if I wake up sore and the soreness gets better with some movement, I might lace up and head out for 10 minutes or so. That is a good point to do some active stretching. Do things feel better at that point? If they do, it is okay to keep going. If not, call it a day.
What you should not do is try to do the same type of exercise quickly after. If you do a very challenging arm workout and your upper body is killing you, maybe go for a bike ride the following day.
Should I Wait Until Muscle Soreness is Gone?
If you anticipate not working out again until all discomfort is gone, you may never work out more than twice each week.
Remember: a certain amount of discomfort and soreness is to be expected.
I promise you that you will be able to tell the difference between soreness that should be babied and the kind you can push through with time.
You’ve Got This!
Don’t be nervous about doing hard workouts just because it will cause a little pain. No one is asking you to take the old school “no pain, no gain” approach.
However, nothing worth having comes easy.
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