Overview

Aching muscles: the key facts

Everybody is familiar with it: our muscles ache after sport, making climbing stairs a real grind. Aching muscles are one of the most common sports injuries.

How aching muscles come about

In the past, experts assumed that lactic acid was the cause of the complaints. During sporting activities or other physical exertion, lactic acid (lactate) does indeed collect in our muscle fibres. This was thought to over acidify our muscles, leading them to hurt and a reduction in our performance. This assumption isn’t correct, however, because

  • lactate forms in everyone – regardless of whether they are professional athletes or complete novices. It is the latter, however, who are more often plagued by the symptoms.
  • Aching muscles often occur after strength training despite the fact that the body, for example, forms considerably more lactate during a 400-metre run.
  • The typical pains do not arise directly after sport. However, lactate levels in the muscles half every 20 minutes.

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Aching muscles occur after unusual movements or being subjected to very intensive strain. In particular, deceleration movements such as walking downhill or sports that involve many stopping and starting movements often lead to aching muscles. Tiny tears occur in our muscles. The tissue becomes inflamed, water enters the muscles and they swell. Pain develops as soon as the accumulated fluid presses against the surrounding tissue and nerves. In some cases, this can last up to three days.

The good news: there is no need for special treatment. After a while, the tiny injuries heal themselves. The muscle begins to regenerate after 48 hours at the latest. And the pain should have vanished after no more than a week. There is no residual damage.

Important: aching muscles are not bad per se. It shows that your muscles are adapting after intensive training. Good training, however, does not necessarily lead to aching muscles. Even if you do not feel any pain the following morning, the body still builds muscles provided the stimuli from the training were sufficiently great.

The topic of aching muscles is relevant for everyone – both for professional athletes and for beginners. New exercises, unusual strain or starting up again after an extended break can also lead to aching muscles for well-trained individuals.

How aching muscles appear

If you move the injured muscles, you feel pain. Your muscles are stiff, hard and sensitive to pressure. You also have less strength. The range of motion of the surrounding joints is also restricted by the pain.

How to prevent aching muscles

During exertion, our body does not send us a signal that the strain is too intensive. Aching muscles therefore do not announce themselves.

Regular exercise promotes intramuscular coordination. Our nerves and muscles interact better with one another, meaning the strain is distributed across the entire muscle. Warm up your muscles before sport. The heightened blood circulation increases elasticity, meaning our muscle fibres tear less quickly. In order to avoid aching muscles, you should also only step up your training slowly and gradually. For example, start strength training with light weights and increase these up to the end of your session. Following an extended break from training, you should adjust your training intensity.

Tip: stretching after sport doesn't help to prevent aching muscles. Once the muscle fibres have been injured, they cannot simply be repaired again. Stretching can even tend to make the injury even worse.

How to counter aching muscles
  • Exercise
    Light training counters aching muscles. However, make sure to train less intensively than usual. If you have severe pain, take a break instead.
  • Heat
    A visit to the sauna or a warm bath with rosemary or pine needle oil stimulate blood circulation. This allows our muscles to recover. A warming ointment also helps.
  • The right nutrition
    Carbohydrates and protein deliver nutrients which our body uses to repair muscle tears. Make sure to consume enough magnesium. Omega 3 fatty acids also promote muscle regeneration and development.

Whether massages actually support regeneration is a matter of dispute. While they stimulate blood circulation and loosen the connective tissues, they sometimes additionally irritate the painful muscles.

Aching muscles – yes or no?

If you are not entirely sure whether you just having aching muscles or a serious muscle injury, the following questions help:

  • Have you recently trained excessively?
  • When did the pain emerge? (following training, following a specific movement...)
    If the pain emerged directly after a specific movement, this could be a pulled muscle. But be careful! In some cases, the pain also only develops up to 24 hours later with strains.
  • How long has the pain already lasted?
    Aching muscles generally disappear within a week at the latest. If the pain following training lasts longer, there is likely to be another reason. Ideally, you should get this checked out by your doctor.

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