After exercising, your muscles ache and climbing stairs is painful – aching muscles are one of the most widespread sports injuries. What helps combat them?
We have all been there: vigorous exercise, or exercise you are not used to, can often leave you with aching muscles. Actions that stop you moving, for example when you are going downhill or doing exercise that involves a lot of stopping and sprinting, are a particular culprit.
These aching muscles can be extremely painful: your muscles are stiff, hard and sensitive to pressure. But there is no need to worry! The tiny injuries in the muscle tissue heal themselves with time. 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.
What’s more, aching muscles are not bad per se. It shows that your muscles are adapting after intensive training, making them more resilient. Good training, however, does not necessarily lead to aching muscles. Even if you do not feel any pain the following morning, your body still builds muscles provided the stimuli from the training were sufficiently great.
New exercises, unusual strain or starting up again after an extended break can also lead to aching muscles for people used to exercising. Where does the pain come from? 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. This might take up to three days. This explains why sore muscles never start while we are still exercising.
While it was once believed that the aching muscles were caused by excess lactic acid, this theory has since been debunked.
Warm up your muscles before exercising by doing some gentle stretches or jogging. The heightened blood circulation increases elasticity, meaning our muscle fibres tear less quickly. But while stretching after exercise keeps us mobile and supple, it doesn't help to prevent aching muscles because stretching can’t repair the muscle fibres that have been injured.
When we exercise, our body does not send us a signal that the strain is too much. So, always adapt the intensity of your training to your fitness level. Do not put muscles that aren’t used to being worked under too much strain for too long.
Increase the intensity of your workouts slowly and gradually. For example, start strength training with light weights and increase these through to the end of your session.
Well-trained muscles don’t feel the strain as quickly. Regular endurance training – at least twice a week – encourages better coordination between the individual muscles, meaning that the strain is better distributed.
Gentle aerobic exercise or light jogging can ease the symptoms. If you are in a lot of pain, take a break and rest until the pain subsides.
Heat helps to relax tense muscles. A visit to the sauna or a warm bath with rosemary or pine needle oil stimulate blood circulation. A warming ointment also helps.
Carbohydrates and protein deliver the nutrients that your muscles need and our body uses to repair muscle tears. Omega 3 fatty acids promote muscle regeneration and development. After exercising, you should also replenish your magnesium stocks. While this particular mineral is great for regenerating your muscles, it won’t prevent muscle tears, although it can help with cramps and tension.
Whether massages actually support regeneration is a matter of dispute. While they stimulate blood circulation and loosen the connective tissues, they can sometimes be an additional source of irritation for the painful muscles. But there is nothing to say you shouldn’t gently massage the affected areas yourself as long as it feels comfortable.
If you suffer from sore muscles on a regular basis, you might be overdoing the exercise and not resting enough. This exacerbates these micro-injuries. See aching muscles as a warning signal that your body is sending you. Would you like tips on how to adapt your workout routine? We would be happy to answer any questions you may have about your health.
When your muscles ache, they feel hard and extremely sensitive to touch. The pain restricts your mobility. You also have less strength. If you are not sure whether you might actually have a serious muscle injury, the following questions help:
You yourself are the only obstacle to enjoying exercise because sore muscles often come about when we overdo it and overestimate how much we can take. So, take things down a notch next time and get even more from the positive mood-boosting effects of exercise.
Sports scientist Joy provided the editorial team with advice and input for this article. Joy Marxer (MSc in Sports Rehabilitation and Prevention) works for Helsana health consultation. She supports customers on questions to do with exercise and sports medicine.