Exercise is an important part of a healthy, active lifestyle. It improves your heart and lungs, and builds strong bones and muscles. However, exercise can cause sore muscles. This is common if you try a new exercise or increase your intensity. You may use new muscles, strain your muscles, or get small tears in your muscle fibers.
Path to well being
Your muscles may get sore right away. This is known as acute soreness. You may feel them ache or tighten up about 12 hours after you exercise. In some cases, the discomfort may peak 48 to 72 hours afterward. This is called delayed-onset muscle soreness. During this time, your muscles repair and strengthen themselves. Sore muscle pain can improve quickly or last several days.
To help relieve muscle soreness, try:
- gentle stretching
- muscle massage
- ice to help reduce inflammation
- heat to help increase blood flow to your muscles
- over-the-counter pain medicine, such as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen.
Unfortunately, you can’t avoid sore muscles. It is part of getting stronger and healthier. There are some things you can do to help lessen the amount of soreness.
- Warm up. Studies show that warming up your muscles before exercise may be better than stretching them. It wakes up your muscles by increasing blood flow to them. To warm up, do light versions of certain exercises. These include slow jogging or biking, jumping rope, or lifting light weights.
- Drink water. Water helps control your body temperature, loosen your joints, and transport nutrients to create energy. Without water, your body will struggle to perform at its highest level. You may have muscle cramps, fatigue, dizziness, or more serious symptoms.
- Rest. Wait about 48 hours before working the same muscle groups. For example, running uses the muscles in your lower body. Give those muscles 2 days to rest and heal before you exercise them again. If you don’t rest, you can cause muscle fatigue or damage, rather than muscle growth and strength.
- Use proper technique. Doing exercises the right way helps protect you from muscle strain or injury. If you belong to a gym or health club, ask a trainer or instructor for help. They can show you the proper way to lift weights and use the machines and equipment.
- Cool down. It’s important to stretch after you work out. Your muscles are relaxed and more flexible when they are warm. Stretching also circulates blood away from your muscles and back to your heart to aid in recovery.
- Stay within your limits. You may be tempted to push yourself, but remember to progress slowly with exercise. Over time, you can increase the amount of weight you lift or the length of time you run. If you try to increase too soon, you may injure yourself.
Things to consider
Sore muscles are normal. They grow back strong and are able to work at a higher level of intensity. However, be careful that you don’t injure your muscles.
If you think you have a strain or a sprain, try the RICE approach.
- Rest: You may need to rest the injury all or part of the way. It will depend on how bad it is.
- Ice: Use ice packs, ice slush baths, or ice massages. These can decrease your swelling, pain, bruising, and muscle spasms. You can use ice for up to 3 days after the injury.
- Compression: You can wrap your injury to reduce swelling and bruising. Keep it wrapped for 1 or 2 days to a week after the injury.
- Elevation: Raise your injury at or above your heart. This helps prevent swelling and reduces bruising. Keep it elevated for 2 to 3 hours a day, if possible.
When to see your doctor
Contact your doctor or seek care if:
- Your muscle soreness lasts for more than a week.
- Your pain is unbearable and prevents you from moving.
- Your pain gets worse with exercise.
- Your pain causes dizziness or trouble breathing.
- You notice redness, swelling, or warmth in the sore muscles.
- The RICE treatment doesn’t work.
Questions to ask your doctor
- How does a sore muscle feel different from an injury?
- If I use a muscle while it is sore, am I at risk for injuring it?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.