248-543-3566 28931 Woodward Ave, Berkley, MI 48072
248-543-3566 28931 Woodward Ave, Berkley, MI 48072

What Causes Muscle Soreness After Working Out

muscle soreness

The good news about muscle soreness after exercise is that it’s a normal and often expected outcome of a rigorous workout. It almost never indicates a long-term problem or a serious underlying condition.

More good news is that muscle soreness is an indication that you just completed an effective workout that will benefit you in the long run.

That smoldering, glowing pain you feel is an artifact of using muscles in new ways or in a more vigorous manner than your usual workout practice.

Thus, muscle soreness is a common outcome for people who are out of shape and/or for those who have not exercised in a long time. All this doesn’t mean there are not some further precautions to consider or that, in rare cases, there may be a more significant underlying problem.

But before we get into that, let’s explain why muscle soreness happens in the first place.

They Call It DOMS

Sports medicine experts call this pain “delayed onset muscle soreness” or DOMS. It is caused by extremely tiny tears that occur within the muscle fibers when they are worked hard. These tears are so small that they’re called “micro-tears” because they can’t be seen with the naked eye. Even though minuscule, micro-tears are significant enough to produce pain, soreness and may even cause temporary inflammation.

DOMS usually develops with 12 to 24 hours after vigorous exercise. It most often peaks in 24 to 72 hours from point of pain stimulus — the time of the rigorous exercise, that is.

Micro-tears are actually a good thing, however. They are necessary to drive the process of muscle-building. After a micro-tear occurs, the body’s natural healing systems get to work on repairing them. Your body builds back fibers by filling in the gaps between tears with new muscle tissue. After they are built back, they are just an infinitesimal bit bigger than they were before.

With each repeat of an exercise of a specific muscle group, the muscles undergo micro-tears every time. They get built back every time during periods of rest. This is how bodybuilders gradually bulk up those amazing and contoured masses of muscles that ripple and glisten across their arms, legs, chest and all other areas where they concentrate muscle-straining effort.

This is partially where the famous phrase, “No pain, no gain” comes from. One part of the pain is when you’re doing the heavy lifting, ab crunching, running or whatever. The other pains come when your muscles develop that familiar glow of soreness a few hours later.

It is significant to note that sports medicine specialists add a subtle distinction to the issue of muscle soreness as it relates to muscle mass gain. They say too much soreness can actually lead to less muscle development for some people. That’s because they tend to exercise less while they recover or exercise less vigorously to avoid pain. They may also quit exercising altogether.

Other Contributors to Soreness

It is important to understand that there are degrees of pain and acceptable amounts of muscle soreness discomfort.
Other factors should be considered as well.

  • people who are not properly hydrated may get sore because their muscles are starved of basic fluids.
  • nutritional deficiencies: it is well known that low vitamin D levels cause muscle soreness even when exercise is not a cause.
  • It may be simply the genetic make-up of the individual.

All the above can make it tricky to judge when you’re overdoing it or when other variables are contributing.

For experienced exercisers, DOMS can result from pushing the body in ways it is unaccustomed to. This can activate smaller muscles your normal workouts don’t touch. For example, a person may opt to kick up their efforts a notch by taking a stint in a boot camp. A tough exercise instructor may have them doing an enormous number of lateral lunges, for example, and a lot more sets and reps than usual.

Sports trainers say everyone gets carried away from time to time. A workout enthusiast may get more than he or she expected out of a new system they’re “test driving.” Many people notice that when a substitute instructor fills in for a regular exercise class, muscle soreness is a result. That’s because the sub-trainer will lead his or her crew in different techniques.

Possible Different Causes of Soreness

Sports medical experts identify more than one kind of muscle soreness. We’ve already talked about the most common — DOMS. Another is acute muscle soreness. This refers to a pain that arises while you are exercising.

Notice that DOMS has a 12-to-24 onset period. Acute muscle soreness differs in that it shows up right away. It happens while you are still in motion or very shortly after ceasing your routine. For example, if you’re doing some bicep curls and you get a sudden pain in the muscles you are working on, that’s a sure sign to stop right away and assess your condition. It may be an indication that you have injured yourself or about to injure yourself.

One way to tell the difference between normal DOMS and acute muscle soreness is that the former tends to feel more “global,” whereas an injury will be focused on the area you are working, such as a bicep or back muscle. Also, an injury will usually be associated with a specific movement. The pain will be noticeably sharper and more specific.

A final note on telling the difference between DOMS, acute pain and a genuine injury. If you feel pain bilaterally (such as on both quads), it’s much more likely to be DOMS rather than an injury. DOMS almost always feels much better after three days, but if the pain hangs in there for a week or more, it’s likely you sustained an injury and you might consider seeking professional medical help.

How to Deal with Exercise Muscle Soreness

The first thing to remember is that common exercise-induced muscle soreness will absolutely go away on its own, usually within three days, especially if you skip exercising for those three days — but almost no sports medicine specialists recommend this “go idle” approach!

It’s a much better idea to engage in some light movement, such as walking or light exercise. The reason is that these activities will aid circulation and send oxygenated and nutrient-rich blood into the muscle tissue that is now seeking to repair the micro-tears produced by the previous workout.

The emphasis here is on “light.” For example, if you originally gained soreness lifting weights, go back to the weights using about 25% of the original weight used.


There is good scientific data that shows drinking a lot of water makes muscles heal faster and muscle soreness fade sooner. More research needs to be done, but the thinking is since it’s known that dehydration dramatically increases muscle soreness, getting some extra water helps healing happen faster. It is believed that water also helps flush out waste products and toxins. These are produced when muscles break down during exercise. The faster you filter them out, the better.


This is simply a tremendous way to activate and use muscles without subjecting them to impact or by forcing them to do the heavy lifting that results in micro-tearing of muscle tissue. In fact, you might say there is an entire culture, religion and philosophy based on a form of body stretching — it’s called yoga.

No, you don’t have to take up yoga, per se. What you want to use is something called static stretching. This is when you simply stand, lie down or sit while holding a position for 45 seconds to one minute before you relax and move.

The counterpart to static stretching is dynamic stretching. This is when you add a bit more strain to stretching motions. This is precisely the kind of stretching that highly recommended by training specialists to help you avoid injury and get your muscles ready for a good workout.

In fact, dynamic stretching before a workout can help you prevent or lessen muscle soreness from a workout before it happens.

Consider Calling Dean Chiropractic

If your muscle soreness persist, consider going to a chiropractor. Give us a call here at Dean Chiropractic to help you find a solution to your muscle soreness

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