The aftermath of a strenuous workout can be pretty tough. Whether you’re pushing yourself a bit harder than usual or trying to tone up a new part of your body, you’re likely to feel the effects of working out either during the act or a couple of days afterwards. From trouble walking up the stairs to feeling an achy sensation when you raise your arms to reach for the cereal in the morning, muscle soreness can affect anyone, irrespective of their level of fitness. However, significant muscle soreness after a workout is more likely to affect you if you’re trying out a new workout, putting more strain on a particular muscle than usual, or if you’re working out for a long period of time.
Ever heard of the expression ‘no pain, no gain?’ Many people accept this as a harsh reality when it comes to regular exercise – but what if we told you that it didn’t have to be true? There are many ways you can alleviate the pain and discomfort of intense workouts, so there’s no need to let sore muscles put you off reaching your fitness goals, or living comfortably. Join us as we identify the main types of muscular pain that can occur during and after exercise, before we address 5 effective ways to deal with pain and speed up your recovery process.
What causes muscle pain?
Excluding pre-existing injuries, If you’re experiencing pain or soreness after or during a workout, there are two main types of muscle pain you may be suffering from; acute muscle soreness (AMS), or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Acute muscle soreness – AMS is muscle pain that is felt during, or immediately after, vigorous exercise. This pain can occur around as soon as a minute after the physical activity takes place, and it can persist for anywhere between a couple of minutes to 24 hours after the exercise took place. AMS takes place for a number of different reasons, but the main factor is the triggering of the body’s inflammatory response
When muscle strain occurs it wears down the muscle’s functional unit called the sarcomere, and the degradation of this unit is what causes inflammation. This inflammation then triggers pain receptors, and the stimulation of the pain receptors is what results in an almost instant sore sensation being felt in the overly strained muscles. Therefore, when you’re feeling acute soreness during a workout, it’s basically your body’s natural way of telling you to take it easy.
Delayed onset muscle soreness – DOMS typically occurs a day or two after a hard-hitting workout. It’s an extremely common condition and it’s probably the most widely recognised type of exercise-induced muscular pain. It’s more likely to take effect if you exercise harder than usual or if you’re training a new part of the body, and it can last for around 3-5 days.
DOMS occurs because excessive muscle strain can result in microscopic tears to the muscles fibres, and this causes damage to the muscle as well as its surrounding connective tissues. This subsequently triggers the body’s natural inflammatory response, which leads to liquids and electrolytes to flow towards the damaged muscle to start the process of healing. The pain and soreness then emerge when your body starts to naturally repair the muscle damage.
Both of these types of pain can vary dramatically in severity and length, depending on someone’s pain tolerance, workout regime and physique. However, you don’t have to put up with this suffering, so here’s how you can tackle the pain to enhance your level of comfort while staying ahead of your fitness game.
1 – Apply ice
Since both acute muscle soreness and delayed onset muscle soreness result as a consequence of some type of inflammation, lowering the body’s natural inflammatory response is the key way to decrease levels of pain. Applying ice to the injured area can be incredibly effective at this because it reduces the amount of blood flow to an injury site, which also reduces levels of inflammation, tissue damage, and swelling.
Since the fluid flowing to the site of the tissue damage is majoritively what causes the pain in the first place, limiting this fluid accumulation is a very effective way at soothing current pain while preventing future soreness from occurring. This technique is particularly effective if the area in pain is particularly swollen, red, and inflamed, and it’s best to apply the ice within 48 hours of the onset of the injury.
There are lots of different ways to manage your pain by applying ice, but the most common is through the use of an ice pack or a cold compact, by making your own by putting ice in a thin cloth, by taking an ice bath (if you’re brave!), or by trying out a cryotherapy treatment. It is, however, important to not apply bare ice directly onto the skin as this may risk the onset of localised frostbite.
2 – Use painkillers
Albeit not a very creative pain-relieving strategy, painkillers are still the go-to for many sportsmen and women who experience recurring muscular pain and soreness. It’s a fast and typically reliable way to relieve moderate muscular pain and it’s easy to take medication whether you’re on site or on-the-go. Common painkillers are also very easily available over the counter in most pharmacies.
It’s important to keep an eye out for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as aspirin and ibuprofen, as they offer a more efficient way to help you ease your discomfort. However, if you rely on these types of medication to relieve types of pain in the long term, they may interfere with your body’s natural ability to heal itself, making exercise-related injuries take even longer to recover from in the future.
Also, if you slip into the habit of routinely using these types of painkillers, your tolerance to them will be weakened. They also have been known to elicit side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, a weakened immune system, and, after excessive use, even damage to the liver.
3 – Try using CBD
Only recently making a splash in the sports scene, CBD has quickly risen throughout the ranks to become a highly validated way to prevent muscle soreness and facilitate muscle healing. Existing as somewhat of a mysterious herbal outsider, CBD, otherwise known as cannabidiol, is an extract of the hemp plant that features an array of therapeutic and healing properties – while containing no psychoactive properties.
One chief way that taking CBD oil for pain is particularly effective is due to its ability to relax muscle tissue. Since muscle tension surrounding the injury can make the pain much worse, relaxing the muscles that encompass the area of tension is an effective way to alleviate the pain that is being felt.
Cannabidoil’s anti-inflammatory properties are another important factor behind the compound’s success. In the same way that ice is so effective at reducing pain, CBDs ability to reduce most of the unnecessary inflammation around the site of damage means that swelling around the injury can be prevented and the pain can be soothed. But as the necessary amount of inflammation is still able to occur, the pain is still able to be relieved without compromising on the muscles recovery time.
There are lots of different ways to sample the benefits of this herbal extract, and there are many different places you can buy CBD oil out there today. One of the most efficient and effective ways to relieve muscular pain specifically, however, is by applying CBD oil directly onto the area or soreness or absorbing the substance through a transdermal patch.
4 – Get a massage
Another way to reduce muscle soreness by lowering your body’s inflammatory response is to massage the area that has been affected. Massages have been proven to reduce inflammation by limiting the production of compounds called cytokines, as they have been understood to play an important role in the inflammatory process.
As well as reducing muscle pain, massages have also been found to increase the rate of muscle repair, thus speeding up the process of recovery. It does so because massages stimulate parts of cells called mitochondria, which are microscopic powerhouses that convert glucose into energy that fuels cell function and mending. This speeds up the recovery of muscle cells to help you get back up and running in less time.
It’s recommended that if areas of your body are in pain, you should seek help from a sports masseuse of a soft tissue specialist. This is because if someone without professional knowledge tries to address the problem they may risk making the injury worse.
5 – Rest your body
Last but definitely not least. Sometimes after the wear and tear of a vigorous workout, the fatigue and soreness your body is experiencing are really just trying to tell you something – take a break. Resting your body helps to restore energy levels and build stamina, so you don’t experience a burn out between workouts.
If you keep on exercising when your muscles are experiencing pain or soreness, you delay their processes of recovery because you’re not giving your body enough time to fix itself and increase its strength. Just listening to your body’s natural way of telling you to take a break can be the difference between a healthy body and repetitive muscular strain. So next time you’re experiencing bouts of soreness, sit the next exercise out and let your body work its magic.