The Two Types of Muscle Soreness

Man sitting in bleachers holding his injured knee

Whether you took a break for a few days from working out or you decided to go for that new HIIT routine instead of your usual cardio, there is a good chance that you would get all achy afterwards.

And while post- workout muscle soreness and body pain is normal, it IS still uncomfortable to go through. And the first step towards recovering from anything is to understand the problem.

There are two types of  muscle soreness among athletes and non-athletes:

  • Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
  • Acute Muscle soreness (AMS) or more commonly – immediate muscle soreness

Acute Muscle Soreness

Is experienced during or right after a workout. It is a burning sensation that is caused by extremely fatigued muscles, and lactic acid builds up  in the muscle fibers, which can also cause slight swelling.  There is no need to get so concerned about this as this type of muscle soreness goes away after a few hours or the following day.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

DOMS on the other hand, generally kicks in 24 hours after a workout and lasts for several days.

It is caused by micro tearing in the muscle fibers and the adjoining tissues that happen during an intense workout. Your muscles are stretched and used in ways they aren’t accustomed to.

But can’t I just take pain meds?

Photo of prescription pills

Taking Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) is the quick solution to muscle pains and soreness. However, the more you work out, the more your muscles become stronger in the process.

Also, there’s really no conclusive data that shows NSAIDs truly help reduce muscle soreness. Relying so much on pain medications also puts you at risk of a heart attack and digestive problems.

NSAIDs can also be highly addictive, that is why these medications should be taken with caution. Consult with your physician first before taking them.

So what’s better for muscle soreness than anti-inflammatory meds?

Anti-inflammatory FOOD

Photo of a man eating

Fats, in the form of Omega-3 fatty acids as well as DHA, EPA, and ALA have been linked to a reduction of inflammation. You can get Omega 3’s as well as DHA, EPA, and ALA foods like salmon, mackerel, tuna, flax, avocados, and walnuts.

At the same time, you want to stay away from foods that promote inflammation like fried foods, processed meat, soda, refined carbs, and even low-quality red meat (bacon, meatloaf, and ham).

Research also shows that fruits and vegetables are very important because diets without fruits and veggies can result in slower muscle recovery. So make sure you are getting at least a couple of cups of fruits and vegetables every day.

Heat Therapy

Photo of a man sitting inside a sauna

Applying heat straight away after working out can reduce DOMS. However, heat therapy has to be done the right way. If you apply heat immediately after a workout, there is a chance you might end up with more muscle aches than if you just didn’t do anything at all.

However,  after a day or two when the soreness already starts kicking in, spending a few minutes in a sauna or jacuzzi can help your muscles relax, and increase blood flow to your muscles, aiding with the recovery process. You can also use a massage gun to massage your sore muscles while they are relaxed to help alleviate soreness a bit more.

Different ways to do moist heat therapy after exercise include:

  • warm damp towels
  • wet heating packs
  • warm bath/ hot shower

DIY massage therapy a.k.a Massage Gun

Massage therapy has long been proven as effective in relieving muscle soreness. It is also great at improving a person’s mood and eases anxiety. However, not everyone has access to a masseuse after working out. Also, considering the recent pandemic and everyone is encouraged to practice social distancing, using personal massage devices is clearly the next best option.

A massage gun is a handheld percussive therapy device used to alleviate DOMS. It uses percussive force to deliver vibrations deep into muscle tissue, to break down lactic acid build up. This lessens inflammation and relieves pain.

With regular use, sports recovery devices like HYDRAGUN helps strengthen muscles, allowing you to train harder and longer. It is also compact and portable, so it is easy to take with you anywhere. In fact, you can search videos of NBA players using massage guns during timeout to keep their muscles conditioned throughout the game.

There are a few things you need to understand about using these devices, though:

  • Sports recovery devices like HYDRAGUN can be POWERFUL. Don’t expect gentle kneading and vibrations. Nope. These devices are like jackhammers – pummeling percussive force deep into muscle tissue. Think deep tissue massages that aren’t for the faint of heart.
  • Because of their power, massage guns shouldn’t be used on ankle sprains, strained wrists or on any part of your body that has a broken bone in it. Make sure that you consult with your doctor before using them post-recovery.
  • Do not focus on one area for too long. “Float” the massage gun onto parts of your body so you get equal massage action where you need it.
  • Do not use a massage gun for more than 15 minutes at a time.

Cold Therapy

Photo of a man using an ice pack

Next is one of the best muscle soreness prevention strategies used by athletes as well as almost all college sports teams. It is also not for the faint hearted.

We are talking about ice baths, cold compress and cold showers.

Just like how you would apply a bag of frozen peas to an injury to reduce inflammation, jumping in an ice bath, or even taking a cold shower provides similar benefits.

A couple of minutes in an ice bath is all you need if you are significantly warm before you are getting into one. Definitely do not exceed 10 to 15 minutes, especially if you have no prior experience with ice baths. Soaking for longer than recommended may put you at risk of frostbite, tachycardia and even shock.

Now, an ice bath is clearly not an option accessible to everybody, so the simplest way to use cold therapy is just by turning your shower knob down to its coldest temperature setting and then standing under running water.

When using cold compress or ice packs, make sure that you cover your skin with a cloth before applying the pack on the skin. Apply for 15 minutes and let your skin rest for 20 minutes before applying the ice pack or cold compress again.

Exercise those sore muscles

Photo of a man on exercise bike

Yes, we know how that sounds. Here you are barely able to move and we’re telling you to keep on exercising. While taking complete rest days is also recommended especially if you have a serious injury, it is important to stay active if you want to speed up recovery.

By staying active, you’ll increase  blood flow to your sore muscles to help them recover faster. Now, this doesn’t mean going all HAM on your exercise. Go for low-intensity active recovery exercises for your sore muscles.

You can go on easy rides on a stationary bike or you can go out and take a walk.  For the upper body, you can do some light movements like wall push-ups and TRX rows.  A light yoga session or swimming can help as well.

If the pain is severe, exercise at a lower intensity or switch to another muscle group for a day or two.

REMEMBER: Pain isn’t a measure of how fit you are

Photo of a bodybuilder doing a deadlift

Muscle soreness after intense workouts happen to beginners  and conditioned athletes alike. It is simply nature’s way of telling you that you’re pushing your physical limits. But it is important to remember that the words “No pain, No gain” does not mean you should push through with workouts even when you feel something is really wrong.

Soreness should be less frequent as time goes on. You may still feel the burn of acute muscle soreness from exercise, but DOMS will improve as time goes on and your body adapts to your workouts.

Hydration, proper form, and mindful practice are the only way to lessen muscle soreness. Prepare your body for exercise by getting in an adequate warmup and cool down every single time. Learn proper form and stick to a routine that gradually increases in intensity and duration to lessen soreness and reduce your risk of injury.

See your doctor if your symptoms are recurrent or last more than 7 days. DOMS usually does not require medical treatment and should resolve itself within a few days. However, you should see your doctor if your pain lasts more than a week or keeps coming back, or if you experience extreme weakness, dizziness, or trouble breathing.

Whether you are an athlete or a non-athlete, recovery is an important aspect of performance. The faster and better you recover, the better you perform at your chosen sport. While there is no foolproof way to get rid of muscle soreness, there are steps you can take to recover faster and better prepare your body for your next intense workout.

What do you personally do to combat muscle soreness after working out? Sound off in the comments below. We’d love to hear back from you. Better yet, be part of our VIP fitness community by following us on social media.

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