Coping with delayed onset muscle soreness after a workout
Getting sore muscles a day or two after an intensive workout or rigorous exercise is normal, especially if you are increasing your exercise intensity or starting on a new sport or exercise. The delayed muscle aches and muscle pain are caused by tiny injuries in the muscle fibre and connective tissue.
This condition, known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), is common, says Ms Cindy Ng Li Whye, Principal Physiotherapist at the Department of Physiotherapy and LIFE Centre, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.
“If you haven’t exercised for a while or if you are starting a new physical activity, you are likely to experience sore muscles after the workout. Your body is simply saying your muscles need time to recover,” says Cindy.
The good news is that once your body gets accustomed to the new sport or exercise, you will experience little or no muscle soreness.
Related article: How to Stay Motivated to Exercise
How long is muscle pain supposed to last?
The sore muscles that occur after a rigorous workout will usually subside after 24 to 48 hours of rest. But if the muscle aches do not go away after a few days of rest or even become more intense, it could be a sign that you have sustained a serious muscle injury.
Experiencing severe muscle pain during a workout could also be a sign that you have a muscle strain or muscle injury. If muscle pain is accompanied by breathing difficulty, high fever, muscle weakness and stiff neck, see a doctor.
Related article: Home Treatment for Common Running Injuries
Tips to relieve muscle pain and soreness
- Use an ice pack
If it’s an acute injury, or if one notices swelling of the muscle or joint area and it feels warm, wrap an ice pack in a thin towel and place it on the sore muscles for about 15 minutes. If there isn’t any swelling and the muscles are just sore from the exercise, apply a heat pack for 15 minutes to boost blood circulation.
- Go for a massage
A trigger-point or sports massage will help to relax very tight sore muscles and soothe muscle aches.
- Stretch, stretch, stretch
Stretch your muscles for about 10 minutes after a rigorous workout to prevent sore muscles. And before exercising, remember to warm up the body with simple movements like arm swings and marching on the spot, or start walking slowly and gradually pick up the pace.
- Do light exercises (such as walking, swimming)
Do not stop exercising completely. The fact that you are experiencing muscle soreness after a workout is a sign that your muscles have been stretched and are slowly getting stronger. By using your muscles (with light activity), you can speed up the elimination of lactic acid buildup.
- Build up eccentric exercises slowly
You are more likely to get muscle aches if your muscles are working eccentrically. Eccentric contractions occur when your muscles lengthen under tension as seen in the “down motion” of a bicep curl. Walking or running downhill are also examples of eccentric training. Increase intensity gradually.
- Take a warm bath
A warm bath may loosen tight muscles and boost blood circulation, providing temporary relief.
What about topical creams? “There is little evidence that liniments, oils and other typical over-the-counter sports creams have any effect beyond the massaging action,” says Cindy. However, by making the skin feel cold or hot, they may distract your mind from the soreness.
Need help adopting a better lifestyle? The LIFE Centre at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) has a multidisciplinary team of experts who can provide you with guidance on weight management, exercise and diet.