What Causes Muscle Soreness?

Muscle soreness is the result of small microtears that occurs in muscle fibers during intense physical exertion. This phenomenon is also referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Many fitness experts use this phrase and don’t understand it at all. They lack the background in science necessary to fully understand understand what is going on inside the muscles when they get sore.

Our bodies are elastic, pliable structures that can only withstand a certain amount of shearing force. A sprained ankle is an example of this. The joint is temporarily forced into an unnatural position stretching the ligaments holding the joint in place, as well as straining the muscles and tendons.

The end result is an onset of soreness resulting from swelling. Typical first aid measures can be applied, such asĀ elevating this part of the body allowing blood and lymphatic fluid to drain and the application of ice to induce vasoconstriction.

This is no different than sprained ankle. When your body is pushed to the limit with resistance training, small microtears occur in the fibers of the muscles. When muscle fibers are torn, their content spills out into the surrounding extracellular matrix. This is turn creates an immunological response resulting in local swelling. The swelling or inflammation puts pressure on nerves resulting in pain associated with muscle soreness.

As such, many of the home remedies that work for sport injuries such as a sprained ankle will also work for excessive muscle soreness. An extreme case of this would be someone taking antihistamines prior to an intense workout to combat muscle excessive soreness. This is a rarity but I actually had a client that claimed he was allergic to exercise in that if he trained too intensely his immune system responded aggressively to muscle damage.

Another example is to use ibuprofen instead of acetaminophen because the former is an anti-inflammatory whereas the later only masks pain.

Now this that said, if you are experiencing this type of muscle soreness there is probably something wrong. Either you have been sedentary for far too long or are using some type of crazy Heavy Duty training and doing forced reps by having a large bodybuilder jump onto the barbell. However, there are 6 billion people on the planet for exceptions to exist.

I was once challenged by a gym manager to do 100 reps in the biceps curl with an empty Olympic barbell. I wanted to show off to this guy so I ended up doing 150 reps. I sure showed him – the next day I couldn’t straighten my arms and they remained this way for 5 days.

Okay, so the joke was on me. I took plenty of ibuprofen and sat on the couch while watching TV and alternated which biceps I placed the ice pack on.

In short, muscle soreness is swelling that occurs asĀ a result of tearing inside the muscle fibers. Muscle soreness is analogous to other sport injuries and typical immunological responses and can be treated similarly.

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