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22 January 2018

What's the deal with pain after exercise?

Did you start a new workout regime but felt too sore to move the next day? Experts are now questioning if this approach has any benefits.

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Many people think if they're not sore after a workout, they didn't push themselves hard enough. But some experts challenge this view.

"There's no evidence that shows individuals with muscle soreness get stronger versus those that don't," said physical therapist Heather Henry, from University Hospitals Avon Health Center in Avon, Ohio.

Soreness after a workout is caused by microscopic tears in muscle fibres. As the body repairs these tears, people can also develop stiffness or achiness, she explained.

A process of growth

"Muscle soreness is a process of growth for the body," Henry said in a hospital news release. But she added that it's not necessary to feel pain in order to build muscle and get stronger.

A more accurate way to assess a workout's effectiveness is to record physical measurements, including heart rate, speed and endurance over time, Henry said.

She added that muscle soreness depends on different factors, including the type of movement, your physical condition and overall activity level.

Movements that cause the muscles to lengthen as they contract, such as running downhill, cause more muscle breakdown than other workouts, she pointed out.

Stretching doesn't prevent soreness

"People tend to feel more soreness after doing those types of activities," Henry said.

Also, starting a new workout routine can cause post-workout pain. Muscle soreness may also vary depending on how long you rest during your exercise routine and how active you are when you're not working out.

Henry debunked a common notion — that stretching before a workout prevents muscle soreness. "Unfortunately, multiple studies have shown stretching before a workout does nothing to prevent delayed onset muscle soreness," she said.

woman working out with personal trainer

Some tips to deal with pain

If you do develop muscle soreness, should you skip your workout and lie on the sofa?

It's important to listen to your body, but sore muscles shouldn't stop you from exercising, Henry said. Pain or stiffness associated with a new regimen will generally ease over time. People who are sore should start with about 10 or 15 minutes of light aerobic activity, she added.

"If you don't feel any muscle soreness after that, you're probably OK to continue," Henry said.

Here are more tips from the physical therapist:

  • Don't push through significant pain. Ignoring your body's warning signs can lead to sprains, breaks or injuries to the tendons or ligaments. If pain doesn't subside after 10 to 15 minutes of light exercise, it's time to stop.
  • Applying ice up to 48 hours after a workout can reduce pain and inflammation. Massage and compression can also help, Henry added.

Image credit: iStock

 
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