Michael Castleman

Q: If a workout leaves me with sore muscles the next day, should I rest?

A: Not necessarily, says muscle-soreness researcher Patria Hume, Ph.D., a professor of human performance in the School of Sport and Recreation at Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand.

When you start a new exercise or push your body beyond what it’s accustomed to, you can develop “muscle micro-injuries” -- tiny tears in overworked muscle fibers. This is what causes that familiar soreness 24 to 48 hours after a new workout, explains Hume. But this “delayed-onset muscle soreness” or DOMS, as it’s called, is medically minor, and there’s no need to stop exercising. Instead, “reduce the intensity and duration of [your] exercise for a day or two” until the soreness clears up, advises Hume. 

In the meantime, aspirin or ibuprofen can help relieve the soreness and reduce the inflammation that causes it, report researchers at The University of Georgia. Massage can also help, according to an Australian study.

But one popular DOMS treatment does not work: stretching before and/or after exercise. Researchers at the University of Sydney, Australia, reviewed 10 studies of stretching to prevent or treat DOMS. In every one, “the effects were very small.” Stretching before exercise reduced DOMS by only half a percent, while stretching after exercise reduced DOMS just one percent.

Finally, while DOMS is not serious, major injury to muscles, tendons or ligaments can be. How to tell the difference? DOMS occurs a day or two after you work out, whereas major injury causes immediate, sharp pain and swelling. So if you’re sore from that new workout you did a day or two ago, that’s no excuse to stop. Ease up on the gas but keep on truckin’!


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Health - Spot the Difference: Sore Muscles vs. Muscle Injury