“Soreness after exercise is mainly caused by tiny tears in the muscle fibers,” explains Jacque Crockford, exercise physiologist and education specialist at the American Council on Exercise (ACE), based in San Diego, California. “These tears cause an inflammatory response in the body, and as they heal, it can be slightly painful.” It’s 100-percent normal, but don’t think in terms of no pain, no gain. “Soreness isn’t a good gauge of the effectiveness of a workout,” she adds.
Just like most of us, sore muscles happen when they’re asked to work harder than they’re accustomed to. “Muscles get sore when they’ve been stressed,” says Kyle Stull, M.S., National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) faculty instructor in Dallas, Texas. “This stress is actually a great thing because it results in adaptation over time.” Still, “soreness shouldn’t be so severe that it forces you alter your normal activities,” he says.
What helps sore muscles? Try these proven strategies for sore muscle relief.
As much as you want to, don’t sit still! “Most of the time, the first ‘ouch’ comes after someone has been sedentary for a number of hours, whether that’s at the office or sleeping. Contractions of skeletal muscles—like those caused by walking—keep fluids moving and circulating, which can help with repair,” says Stull. The moment you sit still, your ticker is only body part pumping’ and all that repair is a lot of work for one muscle to handle! “The more you can get up and move in the 24 hours after an intense workout, the better,” he says.