What causes muscle soreness?

by ir. Yvana van den Hork

Delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) is a type of pain that most will experience after doing unusual exercise for the first time. There have been several theories to as what causes muscle soreness. At first lactic acid was blamed, but lactic acids disappears quite rapidly and the time period between exercise and soreness too large.

It is now thought DOMS is the result of micro-trauma or muscle damage on a small scale. Damage occurs not only to the muscle fibers themselves, but also to the muscle cell membrane. Proteolytic enzymes are activated that damage muscle fiber proteins and structures within the muscle fibers.
The actual pain felt as DOMS is not from muscle fiber damage itself, but from edema, swelling and inflammation.
Muscle soreness will be worst when performing unaccustomed eccentric exercise. An eccentric movement happens when a muscle lengthens, mostly when you are lowering a weight carefully: the slower this happens, the more damage is done.
Once someone gets used to the exercise, severeness of muscle soreness will diminish and sometimes disappear completely.

What most people are confused about, is whether it is a good or bad sign to suffer from DOMS. The answer is ... it depends.
It could mean someone had a great workout but it can also be a sign of overtraining. A certain amount of soreness may indirectly benefit muscle development.

The response can be likened to the acute inflammatory response to infection. Once the body perceives the damage, immune cells migrate to the damaged tissue in order to remove cellular debris to help maintain the fiber's ultrastructure.
In the process, the body produces signaling molecules called cytokines that activate the release of growth factors involved in muscle development.
So, localized inflammation - a source of DOMS - leads to a growth response: breaking muscles down and re-building them, bigger and stronger than before.

However, getting sore doesn't always mean your muscles will get bigger and stronger. Vice versa, you can experience growth and strength increases without having been sore. If you are still getting results as in getting stronger, you are still progressing no matter whether or not you are getting sore.
Be careful when you have never lifted before: extreme soreness can prevent you from effectively completing your next workout. If you can't walk up or down the stairs after lower body day or comb your hair after upper body day, you've pushed too far, possibly beyond your body's ability to repair the damaged muscle, and that means no muscle growth.
In the past people resorted to taking NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen to combat DOMS, but unfortunately this harms muscle growth and damages the liver.

Instead, protease supplements like bromelain and other anti-inflammatory supplements such as curcumin, ginger and saw palmetto will work just as well without side-effects. Magnesium will not diminish DOMS but prevent cramps, which can be just as debilitating after exercise.

Food-wise you may want to reduce inflammation by upping your healthy fat intake and concentrating carb intake to during and after your workout.

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