By Dr Tony Setiobudi BMedSci, MBBS, MRCS, MMed (Ortho), FRCS (Ortho)
The pandemic has made people more aware of the importance of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise is one of the key factors to stay healthy and boost your immune system.
The first workout goes great, and you are proud and confident of yourself. When you wake up the next morning, all your body feels sore, and you can barely get out of bed. What happened? Did I do something wrong? Did I do too much? Is it normal?
Some muscle soreness after a workout is perfectly normal. Don’t let muscle soreness after a workout get you down!
So why exactly do you feel sore the next day instead of right away? Muscle soreness is a side effect of the stress put on muscles when you exercise. It is commonly called ‘Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)’. DOMS is the stiffness and pain felt in muscles, usually begins within 6-8 hours after your workout and can last up to 24-72 hours after the exercise. Muscle soreness is especially common after taking time off, doing a new workout, or making a big change to your routine. The muscle pain is due to inflammation within the muscle, which is one of the main triggers for this muscle soreness.
The good news is muscle soreness is a good thing as it means that your muscles are repairing and strengthening themselves. Sore muscle pain can improve quickly or last several days. Normal muscle soreness is a sign that your muscles are getting stronger and denser than they were before. There is nothing to be alarmed about.
Performing gentle stretching, massaging the muscles, and resting can help relieve muscle soreness. You can put ice to help reduce inflammation. While a heating pad or warm bath helps increase blood flow to your muscles to aid muscle recovery. There are few things you can do that will certainly ease the pain, and help you recover quicker.
- Warm up. It wakes up your muscles by increasing blood flow to the muscles before every session.
- Drink water. Water helps control your body temperature, loosen your joints, and transport nutrients to create energy.
- Limited rest. Wait about 48 hours before working for the same muscle group in the same intensity.
- Use proper technique. While exercising, having the correct technique helps protect you from muscle strain and injury.
- Cool down. It is important to stretch after you work out. Stretching also circulates blood away from your muscles and back to your heart to aid in recovery.
- Stay within your limits. You need to start slow, steady, and progress gradually. If you try to increase too soon, you may injure yourself.
Just make sure what you are suffering from is DOMS and not an injury. Mild to moderate muscle soreness is common and generally harmless. On the other hand, severe muscle soreness could be a bad sign. It’s important to know the difference between reasonable muscle soreness caused by exercise, and pain due to overuse or muscle injury.
When should you worry about sore muscles?
It sounds like muscle soreness is a positive thing, but here’s where it can get a little complicated. If the pain begins during or immediately after the exercise, it is not normal. Pain that occurs during an exercise is a sign that is not quite right, that’s a signal from your body to stop the activity before serious joint or muscle damage occurs.
Contact your doctor or seek care if;
- The pain you’re experiencing prevents you from carrying out daily activities, most probably the exercise was too intense
- The discomfort lasts for more than a week
- Severe unbearable pain
- Visible redness, swelling in the sore muscles
- You feel pain in the joint, over the bones, or in tendons
- The RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) treatment doesn’t work
A severe case of DOMS could be the condition rhabdomyolysis, a rare but serious and potentially fatal condition if not treated right away. It is the breaking down of muscle tissues that release myoglobin and creatine kinase into the bloodstream, which can lead to kidney damage and even, in some cases total kidney failure. Signs of the condition often referred to as ‘rhabdo’, include nauseous, urine turned a dark shade of brown color, and significant muscle pain after an intense workout.
The important thing to remember is that while exercise is important, don’t let muscle soreness discourage you from it. Start a new exercise routine slowly and allow your body to adjust over time. Your body will thank you later.
Dr Tony Setiobudi is an Orthopaedic & Spine Surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Hospital (Orchard), Singapore. He treats bone, joint, muscle and ligament problems in adults and children. He has a special interest in nerve compression and spine problems such as back & neck pain, scoliosis, kyphosis, spine tumor & infection, spinal cord injury, osteoporosis fracture, spinal stenosis and slipped disc.