Pain in the Butte!

So you worked out yesterday, maybe hiking up Spencer’s Butte for the first time in months or you hit the gym and really felt great hitting that heavier set of dumbbells… and you woke up today sore.  So sore, in fact, you couldn’t even roll out of bed without groaning like a bear waking up from hibernation.  What gives?  Is it that lactic acid stuff everyone keeps talking about?

Not really.

Muscle soreness comes about from many different causes, and the cause changes depending on how long it was since the muscle was last fatigued.  Most people have heard of lactic acid, and understand that it relates to muscle soreness in some capacity.  But lactic acid builds up acutely – that is during that time that you’re actively exercising.  Once you’re done exercising, lactic acid is flushed out of the muscle tissue before you even go to sleep that night..

So why are you still sore days later?

Exercise, particularly higher intensity exercise (think weight lifting or prolonged activities like distance running) causes micro damage to muscle tissue.  Depending on a number of factors, this micro damage can lead to changes in your muscle tissues.  Good changes can include muscle growth (ie the muscle getting larger), while some of the bad changes include muscle strains/tears (and are not very common).  The much more common middle ground with this micro damage is delayed-onset muscle soreness (often referred to as DOMS).

Basically, the muscle needs some time to repair itself.  So what can you do?

  1. Stay active… so long as the soreness is in the muscle, moving more is a great way to encourage local blood flow and speed up the muscle repair process.
  2. Gentle stretching of the sore muscle can help get some local blood flow and help you move better as long as you ease into the stretch.  Plus, stretching in this way releases pain-relieving chemicals in the body.  Don’t worry about prolonged holds, just some slow movements in and out of the range where you feel that soreness.
  3. Massaging the muscle can also help increase local blood flow (there’s a pattern here…).  Plus, it feels really good!
  4. Physical Therapy is a great option as well. PT is based on principles that help with tissue healing and returning to pain free movement, and will be more personalized than a list you found on the internet.

1-2 days is a pretty common timeframe for DOMS to last, and a couple extra days isn’t necessarily something to worry about.  If you’re sore up to a week later, you probably need to step back and modify what you’re doing, because you may be setting yourself up for an injury.  Pain in your joints, tendons, or ligaments is also an abnormal response to exercise, and seeing a physical therapist as soon as you can will help save you a lot of pain down the road.

For some extra reading, the American College of Sports Medicine has a great pdf on DOMS if you want to read up a little more while you’re trying to figure out how to get out of bed.

Got questions?  Feel limited in what you’re able to do?  The staff at Limitless Physical Therapy in Eugene, OR can show you how to live life without limits.

***The above information, including text, images, and all other materials, is provided for educational purposes only, and not as a replacement or supplement to professional medical advice.  Please contact a certified physical therapist, your primary physician, or a certified healthcare professional for any personal concerns.