Both professional and amateur athletes know and fear muscle soreness. And many believe that a workout is only effective if their muscles are particularly sore afterward (which of course is not true). And at the same time, everyone wants to get rid of the soreness as quickly as possible.
But what really helps? Stretching, icing, or even cherry juice? Find out here.
What is muscle soreness, really?
What are the consequences of sore muscles?
Can I keep training, despite sore muscles?
Does stretching help with sore muscles?
Massage for sore muscles?
Heat, cold, and cherry juice for sore muscles
Should I take magnesium?
Conclusion: always take muscle soreness seriously
WHAT IS MUSCLE SORENESS, REALLY?
In the case of sore muscles*, micro-traumas occur in the muscle tissue as a result of unusual stress or overstress. You can think of it like little tears in the muscle structure.
The resulting inflammation causes the muscle (or fibers) to swell due to the ingress of water, resulting in pain when stretched. The body's response, which includes local inflammation and swelling, is part of the healing process.
This process stimulates blood circulation and, ultimately, the metabolism, i.e. the removal of defective structures and the delivery of new cell material.
Muscle soreness occurs about 12 to 72 hours after exercise. The unpleasant pain reaches its maximum over the course of one to three days and can last up to a week.
You reach the peak of pain after about 24 hours. But whether muscle soreness occurs and how long it lasts depends not only on the type and intensity of the physical exertion but also on your individual physical fitness.
WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF SORE MUSCLES?
The research assumes that certain adaptation reactions lead to an increased build-up of cells (fibrils) and thus to an enlargement of the cross-section of the muscle (hypertrophy).
While you may associate mild soreness with effective training, soreness accompanied by severe pain and significant limitations in movement is a sign of overuse.
Other causes include a lack of or insufficient warm-up/cool-down periods, or technically incorrect executions of movement. Sore muscles are usually not associated with significant permanent damage, and the damaged muscle structures regenerate completely.
ATTENTION: Constant training at your limit leads to overload, and the risk of muscle fiber tears increases.
CAN I KEEP TRAINING, DESPITE SORE MUSCLES?
As with all injuries, it's important to take care of the affected structures if you're experiencing muscle soreness. You should avoid intense and powerful physical stressors.
First, you are no longer technically able to execute these motions, and second, training the sore muscles can worsen the condition of the injured structures and even lead to a more serious injury. The damaged muscle fibers must be given time to regenerate.
However, complete immobilization, for example in the form of a break from training, is the wrong therapeutic approach. Continuing to train at a lower intensity makes more sense and promotes regeneration. The cycle gets going and the increased blood flow and warmth have a positive effect on the affected muscle groups.
Cycling, easy jogging, or swimming are all recommended for active regeneration. Depending on the training principle (as in with split training plans), you can train other muscle groups during this time or insert a mobility/yoga unit.
DOES STRETCHING HELP WITH SORE MUSCLES?
Various studies have shown that static stretching before intense physical activity does not prevent muscle soreness. Intensive stretching exercises immediately before physical exertion may even increase the risk of muscle problems.
Particularly in sports in which speed and maximum loads are required (e.g. weightlifting), a muscle can be weakened rather than strengthened by stretching. For fast-paced sports, an extensive warm-up program makes more sense than stretching before exercise.
Even dynamic stretching exercises cannot prevent the development of sore muscles. Mobility is of course still a useful part of any warm-up to promote blood circulation and prepare the muscles/joints for the appropriate movement sequences.
Passive forms of stretching generally have a relaxing effect and reduce muscle tone. The individual feel-good factor also comes into play here. Stretching relieves pain, improves body awareness, and relaxes the muscles. However, this does not necessarily have to take place after an intensive training session.
You should never stretch if your muscles are acutely sore. Intensive stretching stimuli can additionally intensify the fine fiber tears, so-called microtraumas, in the muscular structure.
MASSAGE FOR SORE MUSCLES?
Study results show that a massage after physical exertion can reduce the extent of muscle soreness. However, the massage should be carried out at a low intensity, otherwise your sore muscles' condition may even worsen and regeneration may be delayed.
HEAT, COLD, AND CHERRY JUICE FOR SORE MUSCLES
In order to overcome sore muscles more quickly, Prof. Ingo Froboese from the Center for Health at the German Sport University Cologne recommends, for example, stimulating blood circulation and metabolism from the outside:
"The goal is to support the body in its regeneration," he says. Among other things, this mechanism triggers moderate activity and warmth. "Going to the sauna or a hot bath relieves the pain and promotes healing."
According to a study by U.S. scientists, drinking cherry juice should both prevent sore muscles and relieve pain. The researchers assume that anti-inflammatory substances and antioxidants contained in cherries are responsible for the effect.
Froboese is critical of this: "Before the cherry juice reaches the muscle fibers in need, its nutrients and ingredients have long since been diluted so that hardly anything reaches the affected areas."
Cold treatments (ice massages and cold baths) have also shown a positive effect on sore muscles.
SHOULD I TAKE MAGNESIUM?
Depending on your performance level and the intensity of the sport, your magnesium requirements may no longer be met through food alone, and thus supplementing with magnesium will be necessary.
That said, foods with a particularly high magnesium content include sesame, whole milk, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, flaxseed, nuts (cashews, almonds, peanuts), whole grain products (pasta, bread, flour), dark chocolate, and cocoa.
Magnesium will not completely prevent or end muscle soreness, but intake will at least reduce the risk of it occurring. It helps to replenish the magnesium stores after physical exertion and supports muscular regeneration.
At the molecular level, magnesium ensures that the resting potential, including that of the muscle cells, can be maintained, which prevents muscle cramps. In addition, magnesium is an important substrate that ensures muscles work by providing energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate).
CONCLUSION: ALWAYS TAKE MUSCLE SORENESS SERIOUSLY
Sore muscles are a sign of overload and overuse, and you should always take them seriously. Muscle soreness that lasts longer than a week can be considered extreme.
Even in this case, common sense and moderate endurance training (not complete immobilization) are integral parts of the therapy. Regular occurrences of extreme muscle soreness can lead to chronic overuse and injury.
You should avoid intense strain on the affected muscles, so that the damaged muscle structures can regenerate. However, it is hardly possible to prevent muscle soreness through targeted measures.
It is therefore advisable to regulate the intensity of the load accordingly and to increase it in the smallest possible steps, especially when performing unusual movements or after a long break in training.
Depending on the intensity of your training, you will notice a clear effect after just a few units, which minimizes the extent of muscle soreness. The reason for this is a physiological adaptation of the stressed muscles to the regular mechanical stresses and an improvement in inter- and intramuscular coordination.
*The information compiled here does not constitute medical advice and does not claim to be complete.