Muscle Soreness – Fact and Fiction

Woman Stretching

They usually come creeping and disappear only slowly – sore muscles. Hardly any other phenomenon is surrounded by so many half-truths, especially among amateur athletes. The stern clears up some of them and explains how to alleviate the pain.

Admittedly, the author of this text can only vaguely remember his last aching muscles. But this is by no means because it was less violent than those from his time as a semi-ambitious hobby runner.

Rather, it is already several months ago that he fished the dusty running shoes from the shelf and dragged himself with a few pounds too many over an unremarkable training round. But the next sore muscle will definitely come. At some point. Hopefully.

Because that would mean that the running shoes together with their wearer have finally made it out into the fresh air again. The consequent sore muscles are then something like a just punishment for the more or less imaginative excuses why running is so bad today of all days. Nevertheless, the pain usually feels good after the (running) work is done. Somehow.

But the body has all hands to do with the tiny injuries inside the muscle tissue.

Sore muscles: myths and more …

What you should know about sore muscles and which myths you can safely forget, you can read here.

Why do we get sore muscles at all?

To make a long story short: Because we overstrain the muscles. Especially with the unusual or particularly intensive strain (especially after a long break), the strained muscles cannot cope. They are not prepared for the stimulus. Today scientists assume that tiny cracks form in the fibers or fibrils of the muscles.

Where the pain comes from, which makes runners suffer in agony, especially when running downhill and climbing stairs (downhill), has been a hot topic of discussion among muscle ache researchers for many years. Probably the most probable theory at present is that it is a stretch pain that occurs when tissue water penetrates the microcracks and causes small oedemas.

Why does it only hurt the day after training?

In most cases, the pain sets in about twelve to 20 hours after the exercise. The reason: there are no pain receptors within the muscle fibers. The brain therefore only receives this information when the inflammatory substances are flushed out of the fibers. Conversely, this means that once the pain is there, the muscles are already regenerating. Depending on how intense or unusual the training was, the pain caused by aching muscles can last up to seven days.

The three best sore muscles fairy tales

The thesis that muscle ache is caused by lactic acid persisted for many years. Even sports federations confused their members with this fallacy for a long time – although it could never really be proven that the lactate formed in the muscle fibers due to overloading cannot be broken down fast enough and causes the pain. One of the reasons for this is that muscle ache usually starts hours or even days after training or competition, whereas the lactate concentration halves every 20 minutes.

You should also quickly forget that extensive warming up with stretching prevents sore muscles. Stretching exercises certainly do not accelerate the healing process in the muscle tissue. On the contrary. If the already irritated muscle is additionally strained, you risk disturbing its healing and growth. Stretching exercises before training also have no effect. The inflammatory reaction of the muscle cannot be prevented by stretching. At least in parts of the realm of the Brothers Grimm, the widespread myth that only untrained athletes have to deal with the aching muscles belongs.

If professional athletes take a longer break – for example, due to injury – they can suffer from sore muscles after their comeback, just like the author, whose return to moderate running training is long overdue. New training stimuli for previously unused muscle groups and the tendency of professional athletes to overestimate their performance after surviving injuries can also lead to inflamed muscle fibers.


Sore muscles – what helps and what doesn’t?

Once the muscle ache is there, there are two possibilities. You can sit it out – that usually takes about four to seven days. Or you can help the muscles to regenerate. For example with heat. A hot bath can stimulate blood circulation and metabolism from the outside. A visit to the sauna or moderate training could also relieve the pain and promote the healing of the inflamed fibers. This has not been finally scientifically proven.

However, there is no dispute among sports scientists that hot baths and showers are considered beneficial by many athletes with sore muscles. The extent to which anti-inflammatory active ingredients and antioxidants, such as those in cherry juice, help against pinching in the muscle are controversial. Scientists even claim that cherry juice prevents sore muscles. Critics believe that the nutrients reach the needy muscle fibers in such a diluted form that they no longer have any effect at all.

Science is also divided on the subject of medication. Opponents advise against treating symptoms of muscle ache with anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. There is supposed to be evidence that the active ingredient interferes with the muscle fibers during reconstruction. The fact is: anti-inflammatory agents at least relieve the pain. But they cannot do anything against the muscle ache itself.

Hands off of the “hit on the head” method

Not only among hobby sportsmen the thesis persists that one can train away from the “hangover afterward”, for example by repeating the training the following day with similar intensity. Orthopedic surgeons strongly advise against this “hit on the head” method. The muscle needs time and rests to regenerate itself. Depending on how badly the fibers are damaged, however, it is sufficient to spare them for at least three days.

The good news for all muscle ache sufferers who cannot sit still for three days: Some sports physicians assume that moderate stress on the aching parts of the body and thus an increased metabolism will at least allow the damaged muscle fibers to heal a little faster.

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