Muscle Soreness: Is It a Good Sign or a Bad Sign?


We have all experienced sore muscles after a workout, but is this something that should be considered pain or pleasure? While you may feel like having sore muscles is a sign that you completed a hard workout, you may find sore muscles to just literally be a pain. So, which is correct?

There are actually two types of muscle soreness, delayed-onset muscle soreness and acute soreness. Delayed-onset muscle soreness is the medical term for the pain and stiffness that you feel in your muscles several hours or days after doing strenuous exercise that your body is not used to.

DOMS is felt most strongly between 24 and 72 hours following the exercise. This type of soreness is believed to be the result of doing lengthening exercises, which lead to very small tears in the muscle fibers. Once the muscles tear, they must repair themselves by sending white blood cells, fluid, and other nutrients to the muscle which leads to swelling and inflammation. After these exercises, the muscle quickly adapts to prevent muscle damage, which leads to muscle soreness.

Alternatively, acute muscle soreness appears during and immediately after strenuous exercise. Acute muscle soreness presents itself within a minute of activating the muscle and goes away within a few minutes or several hours after relaxing the muscle. This type of muscle soreness can be caused by the accumulation of chemicals in muscle cells, the movement of blood plasma in the muscle tissue, and muscle fatigue.

It is possible for your muscles to get too sore. If you have over-extended your muscles, you are likely to feel pain in the tendons and ligaments surrounding the muscles that you worked out. If you experience constant soreness and high levels of pain, this may be a warning sign that something is wrong and you are suffering from something beyond normal muscle soreness. This could include exercise-induced rhabdomyolysis, which is the breakdown of muscle following extreme physical exertion. This rare condition can do damage to your body such as stressing your kidneys.

Research has shown that there is a way to measure your level of muscle soreness. Thermal imaging can be used to look for changes in the temperature of the skin just above muscles that have recently been exercised.

While some people enjoy the feeling of being sore, it should not be your goal to become sore following exercise. While soreness can happen, if you exercise regularly and are taking care of your body properly through stretching, nutrition, and sleep, you should not experience this type of pain.

However, if you find that you are experiencing muscle soreness that is so bad that you are unable to get a full night's sleep, you have likely pushed your muscles too far. Additionally, if you are sore after every workout, it may be a sign that something is not right. You should consider rethinking how hard you’re working out and the steps you are taking during recovery. This includes your stretching regimen, what you’re eating, and the amount of sleep that you are getting.

Try to avoid muscle soreness by increasing the intensity of your workouts slowly and making sure that you do a proper warmup and cool down. It is also important to eat well and hydrate your body before and after you exercise so you are giving your muscles the proper fuel that they need. Don’t forget to stretch out your muscles before and after working out so they are primed and ready to go. Before a workout, you'll want to do dynamic stretching vs long static stretching. After your workout your best bet is to do static stretching (see my other blog post on flexibility and stretching).

It is not a big deal if you experience sore muscles every now and then. However, if you think your muscle soreness is excessive, it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor if you are unable to help the soreness go away on your own.