All of us have experienced muscle soreness at one point in our lives. Muscle soreness may be felt during or immediately after exercise. What is more disturbing is delayed-onset muscle soreness, which manifests itself as pain within 24 to 48 hours after intense exercise. This is the type of muscle soreness we feel after heavy exercise and the type that hinders us from exercising more.
So what is behind delayed muscle soreness? It is said that muscle soreness exists after heavy exercise because of inflammation and injury from very small tears in the muscle and its surrounding connective tissues. This is the normal response of a muscle following extensive exercise; the muscle contracts and lengthens when it is under tension during exercise. This process, in turn, triggers an inflammatory response and releases white blood cells and prostaglandins so that injuries within the muscles and connective tissues are repaired. Plus, there is a buildup of lactic acid in the muscles after exercise, and this further irritates muscles, causes pain and discomfort.
Some experts recommend the treatment of sore muscles through the reduction of inflammation and through proper healing of the muscle from injury. This may be accomplished using ice packs, massage, and the use of non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). But one important question is: should one stop exercising when his or her muscles are sore?
There are many opinions related to this. Some experts recommend a period of rest lasting for about 5 to 7 days because muscle soreness will most likely disappear after this short period of time. However, some experts also recommend simple exercises, known as active recovery exercises.
Active recovery exercises refer to low-intensity exercises after high-intensity workouts. There are two types of active recovery exercises. The first type is the cool-down phase exercise which you can immediately engage in after a strenuous workout. The second type includes those activities which follow after an intense workout or a competition.
It is said that active recovery exercise right after a workout regardless of immediate muscle soreness encourages fast recovery from muscle inflammation and injury. It also reduces muscle lactate levels faster and thus reduces further muscle soreness within the next 5 to 7 days than rest alone. In other studies, low-intensity exercise after a strenuous workout regardless of muscle soreness has positive effects on psychological recovery because it promotes better relaxation than rest alone.
Active recovery exercises after an intense workout can prevent further development or progression of muscle soreness and can improve blood circulation which can hasten fast removal of lactic acid from the muscles, this further speed up muscle recovery.
Another way of exercising through mild muscle soreness is through stretching. You have to stretch before, during, and after your workout. In stretching, focus more on your muscles and begin slowly. Once you feel that your muscles have reached the stretching limit, hold that position for 10 seconds. Then relax and resume again. Take your time in stretching out and do not shorten the time needed for stretching because this may cause more injury than benefit.
So, should you exercise despite muscle soreness? It depends on your situation. If you have a little muscle soreness that is tolerable, you can do stretching or active recovery exercises. However, if you cannot bring yourself to exercise because of too much pain, rest for a while, and seek medical help if necessary or if your condition persists for more than a week.