“The Morning After a Workout”

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When you start a new workout routine, or simply increase the intensity of your usual workout… you may feel great initially! But when you wake up the next morning that great feeling may subside, and all you can focus on is the constant ache and pain of your muscles.

This acute muscle pain is known as delayed onset muscle soreness.  It typically occurs several hours (or even 24-74) hours after an exercise.  It is usually experienced as muscular pain and tenderness.

It was once considered that the presence of lactic acid caused such pain in the muscles, but today it is known that lactic acid is removed from the muscle within an hour of intense exercise, and can’t therefore cause the delayed onset muscle soreness which normally begins about a day later.  It is now hypothesized that small ruptures in the muscle fibers (microfilaments of the muscle fibers) as well as ion leakage is the cause of the delayed onset of the muscle soreness.

One study examined the effect of massage on alleviating the pain of delayed onset muscle soreness.  This study had found that massage was effective in alleviating delayed onset muscle soreness by approximately 30% and reducing swelling (Journal of the Australian Traditional-Medicine Society, 2006).  Another hypothesis, which is very popular and known to many, is that light exercise may alleviate delayed onset muscle soreness, and enhance recovery from muscle damage.  A study looked at this hypothesis and found that light exercise performed daily after maximal exercise inducing muscle damage has a temporarily analgesic (pain relief) effect on muscle soreness and tenderness; however, no beneficial effects on alleviating delayed onset muscle soreness and enhancing recovery of muscle function were found (Applied Physiology Nutrition and Metabolism, 2006). Further study is necessary to investigate how the analgesic (pain relief) effect is produced and the extent of its duration.

Another interesting study that I found looked at the affect of warm up and cool down during an exercise routine.  Fifty-two healthy adults (23 men and 29 women aged 17 to 40 years) were examined and the study found that warm-up reduced perceived muscle soreness 48 hours after exercise; however cool-down had no apparent effect. In conclusion, warm-up performed immediately prior to exercise produces small reductions in delayed onset muscle soreness but cool-down performed after exercise does not (Australian Journal of Physiotherapy, 2007).  Again further study is needed to demonstrate these results and their mechanisms of action.

Delayed onset muscle soreness is normal and doesn’t necessarily mean that you have damaged a muscle or have an injury.  There is some evidence that shows a reduction in pain with massage, light exercise, as well as a warm up prior to exercise may reduce the perceived muscle soreness.  Continued use of the sore muscle also has no adverse effect on recovery from delayed onset muscle soreness and does not increase muscle damage. It is also important to determine the optimum strategies for rest and/or activity in aiding recovery from exercise induced muscle damage.

You can prevent delayed muscle soreness by gradually increasing the intensity of a new exercise program.  If the damage has been done, it usually disappears by itself 72 hours to several days after the exercise.  And the next time you work out your muscles will be “ready” and you will probably not be sore again…