Muscle Soreness

Most of us at one time or another have experienced muscle soreness. If you exercise or have ever been involved in sport you will no doubt have at sometime come across discomfort immediately after an activity or the soreness which appears a day or two later.

That Immediate Soreness

That immediate muscle soreness which produces a burning sensation is the result of a build up of metabolic byproducts, often referred to as a build up of lactic acid, and the lack of sufficient oxygen to the muscles known as ischemia.

The Day After Soreness

This is that sore, aching or even debilitating pain which sets in usually the day after and can continue to get worse for another 2-3 days, and can last for as long as a week. Current research suggests the Following three causes for this soreness.

Muscle Damage - Microscopic tearing (raicrotrauma) of muscle fibres can be a result of repetitive contractions, causing pain and leading to inflammation, which in turn will cause more pain.

Connective Tissue Damage - Micro-tearing of the connective tissue (fascia) will often be associated with injuries resulting from eccentric contractions. This is where the muscle lengthens rather than shortens under load.

Pain/Spasm/Pain Cycle - This will often result from overuse. The build-up of metabolic byproducts, combined with a lack of oxygen in the system will activate the pain receptors. Pain causes the muscle to spasm, thus reducing the availability of oxygen, again increasing the metabolic byproducts, and the cycle continues.

Relief From Muscle Soreness

To decrease the muscle soreness it is necessary to increase the blood flow and oxygen to the area, and to relax the muscles. The sooner this can be achieved after the strenuous activity the better.

Massage - Promotes a general state of relaxation, reducing muscle tension and spasm, while increasing circulation to help the muscles recover more quickly. Massage will act much like light exercise and gentle stretching. The difference being that you do nothing, other than simply lie there and enjoy the massage.

It is important to appreciate the existence of the inflammatory process in the muscle tissue. Your practitioner will tend to use less invasive techniques, as the intention here is to increase circulation and reduce the accumulated metabolites in the muscles. The practitioner whilst paying particular attention to your pain level will use techniques which include effleurage, petrissage, compression, jostling, and gentle stretching. Avoiding direct digital pressure, which in most cases is not only inappropriate and painful, but also like to damage tissue. Other techniques that can help reduce muscle soreness and speed recovery include:

Ice - Ice or cold can often break the pain/spasm cycle by reducing swelling and inflanunation as well as reducing muscle spasm and pain. Ice should not be used where there are known circulation problems in the extremities.

Light Exercise - Gentle, non stressful exercise will increase the circulation of blood and oxygen to your muscles. Muscles which are not used become stiff and painful taking a longer time to recover.

Stretching - Static Stretching should be slow and gentle. Stretch each muscle to where you just begin to feel the stretch, then maintain that stretch, without bouncing for 10-30 seconds. The feeling of the mild stretch should subside during the duration of the stretch. Bouncing or trying to stretch beyond your limits will often do more harm than good.

Muscle Fibre Damage

Sometimes muscle soreness can be one symptom of a more serious injury. If some of these other symptoms are present see your practitioner.

Decrease function

Pain on stretching


Pain on contraction

Extreme point tenderness