We feel really good after exercising. We are exhausted and have the certainty that we have done something for our health. But the next day the sore muscles set in. Then our arms and legs feel heavy. The muscles hurt and are hard.
But how do sore muscles actually develop? How can you prevent it and what helps with sore muscles? We clarify – here you will find helpful tips against sore muscles.
What are sore muscles?
From a medical point of view, muscle soreness is an accumulation of so-called microtrauma in our muscle fibers. Microtraumas are tiny tears in the muscle fibers. To be more precise: When muscles are sore, tears occur in certain parts of the muscle fibrils, the sarcomeres. This injury to the muscles causes microscopic pieces of muscle to break off and move freely in the surrounding tissue. The result: water flows in, and the muscle swells and hardens.
Our immune system also reacts to muscle injuries when our muscles are sore: Small inflammatory reactions occur in the torn muscle fibers. So-called scavenger cells collect the surrounding fragments and release inflammatory substances in the process. Surrounding joints can also be affected by the reaction and cause problems with movement.
How does muscle soreness come about?
Sore muscles are caused by overloading the muscles, for example by training too intensively or by new, unfamiliar movements. Classic activities that cause such an overload are long downhill walks, abrupt braking, or carrying heavy objects (e.g. when moving house).
It is above all the combination of tension and overstretching that strains our muscles and leads to muscle soreness. When exactly the stress limit of our muscles is reached depends primarily on our training condition. And this is very individual. So it can happen, for example, that after a long break from sports, we get sore muscles from the first jogging session in spring. Sore muscles can also occur after an unfamiliar activity, for example, painting and wallpapering a ceiling, despite a good level of fitness.
Are sore muscles good or bad?
Our organism can usually heal a sore muscle quickly and by itself. Therefore, tiny muscle injuries are not that bad from a medical point of view. However, opinions differ as to whether sore muscles are a sign of particularly effective training and muscle building.
Some sports physicians assume that sore muscles have positive effects on our athletic performance. The assumption: through the repair process of the musculature, it is not only restored but even “improved”. The renewed muscle fibers are more resistant and can therefore react better to the increased demands of the sport.
Other experts, on the other hand, do not see sore muscles as a driver for faster muscle building or more effective training. They assume that our condition or our muscle growth can be increased better without muscle soreness. Due to the permanent injuries, our muscles would be limited again and again in growth and performance.
The fact is: Permanent overloading of muscles, joints, or the circulatory system is harmful to our organism. Instead, regular training with moderate increases in performance and breaks is recommended. This is the healthiest way to build stamina and muscle.
Also important: A sore muscle should not be confused with other muscle injuries, such as a torn muscle fiber or a muscle strain. These serious injuries should be treated medically. The healing process is also more complex and takes longer than with sore muscles.
How long does a sore muscle last?
A sore muscle occurs about 24 hours after the muscles are overloaded and then lasts about 1 week. The typical muscle pain associated with sore muscles reaches its peak after about 2 to 3 days. After that, the symptoms usually subside.
Anyone who suffers from muscle pain, restricted mobility or hardening of the muscles for more than 8 days should have the symptoms clarified by a doctor.
Tips: What can I do against sore muscles?
Once the muscles are sore, all you can do is try to relieve the pain and help the body heal. You can do this with the following tips:
- Treat yourself to rest and relaxation. In order not to disturb the strained muscles in their healing process, you should not exercise for three days after the onset of sore muscles.
- Moderate exercise, on the other hand, is definitely allowed. Going for walks or light cycling can have a pain-relieving and relaxing effect on sore muscles.
- Magnesium: Our body needs this mineral to relax the muscles, among other things. In the case of sore muscles, dietary supplements with magnesium can help to relieve the symptoms.
- Alternating showers with hot and cold water: This promotes blood circulation and thus the healing process of the damaged muscles.
- Gentle massages on the affected parts of the body can also help to relieve the symptoms. They loosen the hardening and relieve feelings of tension. But be careful: the massage should be really gentle because too much pressure would make the symptoms worse.
- Use special sports ointments for light massages, eg with the active ingredient arnica. These promote blood circulation and have an anti-inflammatory effect.
- Sauna sessions can also help with sore muscles. On the one hand, they stimulate our organisms and promote detoxification. On the other hand, our muscles can relax due to the heat.
- Drink enough: Our body needs enough liquid for the regeneration processes of the muscles. An adult should drink at least 2 liters of water per day.
- Basically, a balanced diet with lots of vitamins, protein, and antioxidants is helpful, because this is how we support our immune system and the healing process.
- In the case of very severe pain, painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. ibuprofen) also help for a short time.
How can I prevent muscle soreness?
Prevention is better than aftercare – this also applies to sore muscles, of course. Here are some tips to help reduce the likelihood of post-workout soreness:
- Warming up and stretching before sport: With light stretching exercises and a short cardio unit, you can stimulate blood circulation in the muscles and loosen up before the actual training. This allows the muscle to get used to training slowly and you reduce the risk of suffering sports injuries.
- Start slowly: If you are a beginner or are returning to training after a long break, you should start slowly.
- You should only slowly increase the intensity of the training after 2 to 3 successful sports units.
- Exercising Regularly: Try to get a routine into your workouts. If you train at regular intervals, you help your muscles grow and keep them fit.
- Only start training well rested: When we feel tired or exhausted, our body signals that it needs rest. We should take that seriously and postpone the training session for a day or two.
- Warmth during exercise: Be careful not to get cold while exercising. Appropriate clothing helps to keep the muscles warm even during short interval breaks.
- Fascia training: Regular fascia training is a great addition to any sport. By stimulating the fascia, we promote blood circulation in our entire tissue and become more flexible in our movements.