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What Causes Muscle Pain After Exercise?

Whether you are a dedicated gym-goer or take a more laid-back approach to exercise, it is likely that you have experienced muscle soreness after a heavy session or trying something new. Muscle ache of this kind is perfectly normal; however, it can be painful, and recovery can take up to a few days, which can affect training programmes.

We take a look at what causes the pain and what you can do to reduce it.

What Causes Muscle Pain After Exercise?

Stiff, sore or achy muscles that occur after exercise are typically referred to as cases of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). You will generally experience it starting around six hours after exercise and it can last for 24-48 hours. It is most common after an increase in intensity or a new activity and therefore is particularly common in those who are just starting or changing their routine. It can, however, happen to anyone, and even people who have been training for years can experience it.

Muscle Fibre Damage

DOMS happens when muscles work harder than usual, causing micro-tears to muscle fibres. These tears increase blood flow and cause mild inflammation which can make moving more painful. Muscle is very good at repairing itself, and this damage is only temporary. As it rebuilds, it gets stronger meaning that we can cope with heavier loads or more intense workouts.

Lactic Acid

For many years, scientists believed that a build-up of lactic acid caused DOMS, but we now know that lactic acid only lasts in muscles for 1-2 hours after exercise, meaning it is unlikely to be the cause.

A person in the gym with weights by their feet

How to Prevent Muscle Pain

While muscle soreness cannot always be prevented, there are certain measures you can take to reduce the likeliness of severe pain.

  • Start a new activity or programme gently to ease the body in.
  • Try to balance workouts, so each area regularly gets focus.

There is currently conflicting evidence as to whether warming up and stretching can help to prevent DOMS, although it can significantly reduce the risk of injury and is always recommended.

How to Reduce Muscle Soreness

If you’re already feeling the burn a day or two after a workout, there are several ways in which you can reduce the pain.

  • Firstly, it is essential to stay hydrated to help the body repair.
  • An Epsom Salts bath can soothe achy muscles.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen.
  • Use ice packs or a cold compress.
  • Get a massage.
  • Many people find that stretches and light exercise are painful but can help to reduce recovery time.

Is it Okay to Still Exercise with Muscle Pain?

Most experts agree that it is fine to continue to exercise with DOMS, although it will be uncomfortable. The soreness will reduce once your muscles are warmed up, but it will return afterwards.

Resting or light exercise will help your body to recover faster.

A woman receiving a massage after exercise

When Should I Worry About Muscle Pain?

Occasionally, muscle pain is a sign of something more serious. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you should speak to a doctor or health professional.

  • If the pain happens during or immediately after exercise.
  • If the pain lasts more than 72 hours.
  • If the pain is so severe it prevents you from performing your daily tasks.
  • If you experience major inflammation, swelling or redness.

How ElleVance Can Aid Muscle Recovery

An increasing number of people are using hemp for sports injury and muscle recovery. Hemp oil works as a natural anti-inflammatory which can help to reduce soreness after a workout and speed up recovery time. Take a look at our website for more information on how hemp can help you.

ElleVance specialises in providing quality, maximum-strength hemp oils and products. Our unique oil is tested by independent laboratories so we can assure our customers they are receiving a premium product. If you have enjoyed this article, take a look at How Do Athletes Manage Injuries?