Have you ever had a workout so intense your legs were so sore you could barely walk properly the next day or days after? This happened to me recently after an intense leg day. Read on for the 7 ways I managed my muscle soreness and how you can recover your sore muscles faster at home.

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I looked at the workout before I began. It looked hard, but fun/doable. I knew it would be a challenge but yet a good challenge and in my realm of workout comfort zone.

Contents

A. Four sets of:
  • Bulgarian Split Squat x 8 reps each leg @ 30X1
  • Rest 45 seconds after each leg
  • Supinated-Grip Bent-Over Barbell Row x 8 reps @ 21X0
  • Rest 60 seconds
B. For time:
  • 1000 Meter Row
  • 100 Air Squats
  • 75 Kettlebell Swings (24/16 kg)
  • 50 Front-Racked Kettlebell Walking Lunges (switch arms as you wish)
  • 75 Kettlebell Swings
  • 100 Air Squats

I completed the four sets of bulgarian split squats and supinated rows. Fuck. My legs are jello. And the worst is yet to come.

But here we go.

Part B. I get through the row, under 5 minutes, much to my dismay. I carry on to the first set of air squats (I got this) I thought. These are in my wheelhouse, my comfort zone …I thought.

By 70 squats my legs were screaming and I had only just started part B.

On to kettlebell swings… this part was more mental. Then to the doozy, weighted KB front rack lunges. These killed me but I just had to power through. At 21 minutes my time was up, I was on my 70th air squat (almost to the finish line) so I kept going.

Finish strong right?!

I limp my way out of the gym. Stumble my way home to get ready for work and pound a recovery cocktail: BCAA + Glutamine (see below). Fast forward 12 hours later. Oh shit, I’m fucking sore and it’s not even the next day. Now I’m just waiting for the inevitable DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) to set in.

The Day After Leg Day

I wake up the next morning barely able to stand up or sit down. Walking downstairs? Uh, is there an elevator? Slowly lowering myself into a seat? Mmmm, more like a controlled fall. If you’re wondering if that included the toilet, yes, yes it did. In fact, I proceeded to “fall” onto the toilet for next couple of days.

My version of walking looked like a young giraffe finding its legs for the first time. You know what I mean…

Don’t get me wrong, I love being sore, but this level of soreness was easily a 9, if not 10 out of 10. My legs were so sore I could barely walk. The only thing I could think about is how I was going to recover from my state of pain.

This carried on for a couple days. But in that time, you bet your bottom dollar I was attempting every muscle recovery remedy I could find.

7 ways to recover when your legs are so sore you can barely walk

The recovery cocktail: A dose of branched chain amino acids and L-glutamine, the building blocks of protein is your best bet at preventing soreness. I continued to take this the days after to help speed up my recovery.

Up the protein intake.

Always eat a high protein source for meals following the workout. Steak is a great option with 24g of protein per 100 grams and chicken breast comes in at 31g of protein per 100 grams.

Take a hot bath or jump in a spa.

The soothing nature of hot water can be a relaxation in itself when your legs are just too sore to function. To up your relaxation game, dump in a cup or two of epsom salt like this one. While there is no science behind epsom salt actually decreasing pain, it certainly makes the water feel nice and the addition of essential oils only further ups the relaxation game.

Rest it out.

My crazy workout called for a rest day. So, I took a few walks the next day and did some handstand practice but no way was I going to further the damage to my legs from the day before. When you feel so sore, take a rest day. You’ve done enough.

Percussion therapy.

If you’ve never tried the jigsaw massage, you are honestly missing out. This form of high frequency massage is invigorating but so relaxing at the same time. Your muscles can’t contract as fast as the therapy gun on a high setting. There’s nothing quite like it. Use code BODY10 for a discount.

Roll it out.

I love the Supernova ball and a foam roller for legs. After a day or two, your muscles will start to calm down, this is the time to introduce the rolling. Find the sore spots and hold. Keep in mind, breaking up the muscles will feel painful while rolling, but will loosen up after, and you’ll be thankful you went through it.

Recovery run or yoga.

Once the inflammation in your muscles has calmed down a bit. Yes, inflammation. I can see and feel that my legs are swollen (that’s when you do the hot salt bath). A recovery run or yoga class can be the perfect way to introduce your sore legs to movement. Find your favorite playlist, podcast, or audiobook and get outside for a couple miles. If running isn’t your thing hop on a bike or simply go for a long walk.

It’s no secret yoga is my personal favorite everything remedy. It’s truly changed my life in so many ways and recovery is just one of them.

Yoga puts us in postures we wouldn’t otherwise find ourselves in. Therefore, you end up opening, stretching, as well as engaging muscles that normally don’t get attention.

Summary

When you killed your workout but your legs are so sore you can barely walk, getting out of pain can be all that you think about. These simple recovery strategies can help you feel better faster and get back to crushing it in the gym.

Do you have a story of when you crushed leg day only to find you’re so sore you can barely walk the next day? Comment below, what other recovery strategies did you try?

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Should you exercise if your muscles are sore?

We’ve all been there. After a couple of weeks of holiday, you come back and have a pretty hard training session. You figure you were in pretty good shape before you left, so you add some extra weights to your barbell and do your squats as usual.

The next day is another matter, however.

Your thighs are so stiff you have to hang on to the banister to totter downstairs. Just the thought of putting on pants to go to work nearly makes you cry. And then there’s the question of the next training session.

Should you wait until you’re not sore anymore, or continue to train as usual?

Not sure what causes sore muscles

Kristoffer Toldnes Cumming is a postdoctoral researcher at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences. He has studied what happens inside muscle cells when they are subjected to stress (Photo: Andreas B. Johansen / NIH.)

Kristoffer Toldnes Cumming from the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, and Jan Helgerud from NTNU say that researchers don’t really know what happens with your muscles when you get sore.

“There have been many hypotheses across the ages,” says Cumming, who is a postdoctoral researcher specializing in training and recovery. “It used to be that we blamed lactic acid.”

Lactic acid is a substance that is produced when muscles need a lot of energy over a short period but do not have access to enough oxygen — a situation that often occurs during endurance training. But lactic acid is no longer believed to be the reason for why you are sore the day after exercising.

“Lactic acid is gone after an hour,” says Jan Helgerud, a professor at NTNU who studies both endurance and strength training.

Jan Helgerud is a professor of sports physiology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Helgerud and his colleague Jan Hoff have conducted a great deal of research on the concept of 4×4 training for endurance and strength training (Archive photo: NTNU).

He points out that you may have a sky high level of lactic acid during endurance training without being sore the day after.

Small tears and inflammation

Helgerud says the most likely cause of soreness is small tears or injuries to the muscles that occur when you make an unaccustomed movement with a great deal of effort or strain. The result is an inflammatory reaction that causes painful and sore muscles for a few hours after the session is complete, and can be at its worst 24-48 hours after your workout.

Researchers call this delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

“Any training involves breaking down your muscles. The body responds by building them up again to withstand greater stresses the next time you train,” explains Helgerud.

But Cumming believes that there are questions around this theory, too.

“For example, scientists have not found a correlation between how sore you feel and how injured your muscles are. The injury occurs during your training and you might not feel stiff at all while you are exercising or immediately afterwards, either,” Cumming said.

Waiting out the stiffness might be smart

Whatever it is that causes your muscles to feel stiff, both scientists are clear that it is nothing to be worried about.

“There is nothing dangerous about feeling sore, other than that it is extremely unpleasant,” says Cumming.

But that doesn’t mean it’s smart to keep training if your muscles are really sore, the researchers said.

“When you’re sore, you can’t give your all, so you don’t get as much out of your workout,” Cumming said. “Your technique also might not be that good.”
Both Cumming and Helgerud recommend waiting until the worst soreness is gone before embarking on a new session with the same exercises.

But that is no excuse to lie on the couch for the next five days, they say. Instead, you could do a different kind of exercise, like endurance training if you are sore from lifting weights, or working out your upper body if you have sore feet.

No real treatment for muscle soreness

Not only do we not know exactly what happens in the body to make our muscles stiff— there is no scientifically proven treatment that helps with the pain.

Researchers have studied massage, cold therapy, compression garments, antioxidants, protein supplements and stretching, Cumming says, but nothing has been shown to really work.

The only thing that really helps with muscle soreness is to get in shape and exercise regularly, the researchers say.

“If you only do squats once a week, you will most likely be sore afterwards. If you train twice a week, you’ll feel better. If you do squats three times a week, you may not experience soreness at all,” Cumming says.

Nevertheless, you shouldn’t train so hard that you are unable to train for two to three days after a hard session because of soreness. “That’s just not a good way to train,” Helgerud said. “But being a little stiff isn’t dangerous, and it tells you that you have worked your body hard.”

Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no

  • Kristoffer Toldnes Cumming’s profile
  • Jan Helgerud’s profile
Related content

DOMS 101: What It Is and How to Deal with It

Reading Time: 6 minutes

If you’re new to the fitness world, you may not have heard of DOMS before. But chances are decent that you will experience it firsthand at some point in your health and wellness journey. As you become more experienced at exercise, you’ll get better at gauging your intensity and workload, but in the beginning, you may overshoot — and DOMS may be the result.

Fortunately, if you do end up with DOMS, it’s not a big deal, although it can be an uncomfortable inconvenience. In fact, some among us may even consider it a badge of honor (more on this in a minute).

But this temporary condition is not a prerequisite for muscle strengthening and fat loss. DOMS is neither an inherently good nor bad thing, but it is important to understand why it happens and what it can tell you about your body and your training.

What Is DOMS?

DOMS stands for delayed onset muscle soreness. It is a condition that causes significant muscle aches and soreness, typically around 24-48 hours following a challenging bout of exercise (hence “delayed onset”). It’s caused by micro-trauma to the tiny fibers within our muscles, which leads to inflammation, swelling, and changes in normal levels of electrolytes and other fluids near the affected muscles.

A common misconception about DOMS is that it’s caused by a build-up of lactic acid, which is produced as a by-product by your body when oxygen stores are depleted. In reality, the presence of lactic acid seems to be correlated with DOMS — that is, it’s often present in the blood of people who are experiencing DOMS — but it’s not actually the cause.

The easiest way to think about DOMS is that it’s a temporary condition caused by microscopic damage to your muscle fibers that comes as a result of exercise that is a bit too intense, too long, or too challenging.

Why Does DOMS Happen?

DOMS can happen after any type of exercise, but especially exercise to which you are unaccustomed or ill-prepared for. So, if you lift more or heavier weights than you ever have before in a training session, or if you run way more miles than you’ve ever attempted, don’t be surprised if you feel super sore for the next day or two.

DOMS is also common after any exercise that requires a lot of eccentric muscle action. You’ll hear people talk about “doing negatives” or the “negative” portion of the lift, and what they mean by that is the eccentric portion. During an eccentric contraction the muscle must contract while it is also lengthening, and this is especially challenging to your muscle fibers.

As an example: when you stand up from a chair, your quad muscles (on top of your thighs) and your glute muscles contract and shorten. When you do the opposite movement (sit down) in very slow motion, your glutes and quads have to contract to control the movement and fight against gravity, even though the muscles are lengthening instead of shortening.

It works the same way with negative bicep curls (slowly lowering the dumbbell from your shoulder down to your side), negative pull-ups (slowly lowering yourself from the top of the pull-up bar), downhill running, and other plyometric and agility drills.

How Can I Tell If I Have DOMS?

If you’ve ever gotten out of bed the day or two after a particularly grueling workout and have felt incredibly sore and stiff, then you’ve probably experienced DOMS. Many people also notice symptoms of DOMS while trying to walk up or down stairs, get in and out of a car, sit down with any amount of control, or carry groceries.

In short, if DOMS is present, then it’s usually pretty easy to notice during our normal day-to-day function. The main symptoms include:

  • Achy and sore muscles that are tender to touch
  • Muscle and joint stiffness
  • Decreased range of motion in nearby joints
  • Increased aching and soreness when the affected muscle is stretched
  • Temporary muscle weakness (due to decreased or impaired motor activation)

How Long Does It Take DOMS to Go Away?

DOMS is temporary — depending on how intense your exercise was, any delayed onset soreness should go away within about two to four days. During this recovery period, the goal will be to help your muscles naturally pump out excess fluid and decrease inflammation. You also need to give your muscle fibers time to heal (when done correctly, your muscles should actually come back stronger than before).

If you find yourself saying, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sore,” then here are some things you can do to help DOMS go away faster:

  • Wear compression garments, like compression tights, socks, and/or arm sleeves
  • Get a (gentle) massage (avoid deep tissue work, though)
  • Use a foam roller to gently roll out and stretch your sore muscles (but avoid excessive stretching)
  • Do active recovery — light and low-intensity exercise that helps get the blood flowing and muscles moving, such as walking, easy biking, and gentle hiking or swimming

NOTE: If your DOMS is significantly debilitating and presents with fever, severe muscle cramps, and/or dark colored urine, you should go to the hospital right away. While rare, these symptoms can indicate a medical emergency called rhabdomyolysis, which is associated with significant muscle breakdown that can be damaging to your kidneys.

How Can I Prevent DOMS?

It’s important to remember that DOMS can happen to anyone, even highly trained athletes, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it’s also not something you should use as a marker of work effort. After all, if you have DOMS because you performed exercise or session that you were not adequately prepared for, then you were putting yourself at risk for injury.

Plus, when you’re dealing with DOMS, you probably won’t be able to train as hard as you want and you may have to miss a workout or two entirely. Missing workouts or having to skimp on intensity can throw off your progress if it happens repeatedly. You want to push yourself in your workouts, but you don’t want to constantly be throwing yourself over the edge. Be mindful of when DOMS occurs and start using it to gauge your intensity levels and learn more about what your body can handle.

To minimize your chance of DOMS, consider some of these tips:

  • Always schedule 10-15 minutes at the beginning and end of your workout for a proper warm-up and cool-down period. This helps your muscles prepare for exercise and safely recover from physical stress.
  • Ramp up your intensity slowly. If you’re brand new to the game, consult with a trainer or coach to help you guide your progress with reps, weights, distance, etc.
  • Drink lots of water every day. Aim for one-third of your body weight in fluid ounces, and probably more on training days.
  • Make one of your scheduled rest days an active recovery day — it’s a fun way to get out and do some light exercise (like easy hiking, yoga, or swimming) that you may not think to do otherwise.

Becca earned her MFA in Cinema-Television Production at USC’s famed film school, and her first career was as a music editor. Becca found her way to career number two through martial arts. She trained in BJJ and muay Thai and worked with professional MMA fighters, building websites, organizing fight promotions, and producing videos.
In 2005, she became a student at CrossFit Los Angeles where she met WLC co-founders Andy Petranek and Michael Stanwyck. In only a couple years, she became CrossFit Level III Certified, left her entertainment career, and dedicated herself full time to coaching, serving as the Program Director of CFLA and founder of the CFLA CrossFit Kids program. After seven years as a music editor and then eight years as fitness instructor, Becca segued to her current career — full-time editor and writer.

8 Signs You Should See a Doctor for Your Back Pain

Be sure to get evaluated by a professional if you have severe back pain coupled with any of these warning signs:

  • Pain that won’t go away. If your severe back pain doesn’t improve with rest or hasn’t subsided within a week of home treatment, you should be checked by a doctor.
  • Severe back pain that extends beyond the back. See your doctor if you are experiencing pain that shoots down into your leg — especially all the way to the bottom of your leg. This could indicate something more serious than a strained muscle, such as a damaged disk in your back.
  • Numbness, tingling, or weakness. If your back pain is accompanied by numbness or tingling in the legs, back, or anywhere else in your body, you should get to your doctor right away. Any unusual weakness should also be evaluated by a doctor.
  • Pain after an accident. If your back pain began after a fall or an injury, be sure to get a doctor’s evaluation. You should also be sure to call your doctor if you experience any swelling or redness on your back.
  • Pain that is worse at certain times. See a doctor if your pain gets significantly worse at certain times or in certain positions, such as lying down. Increased pain at night is also a warning sign of something more serious.
  • Problems with your bowels or urination. If you have trouble with bowel movements or urination, these symptoms might be associated with your back pain. Be sure to tell your doctor about these symptoms.
  • Unexplained weight loss. If you’re losing weight without trying, it may be related to your back pain, and you should seek medical attention.
  • Fever. If you’re experiencing a fever along with your back pain, you should call your doctor.

When you’re experiencing back pain, it’s important to diagnose and treat any underlying medical problems that might be causing or contributing to your symptoms.

In general, back pain should not be ignored — if the underlying condition isn’t treated, it will likely worsen, in terms of joint degeneration or chronic muscle spasm. “If pain is sensed for a long enough time, the body will adapt to a ‘new normal’ and potentially lessen the pain sensation. But that does not mean that the pain is ‘gone’ or that ‘it’s better.’ The body has just adapted to a new, lower functioning level. And there will most likely be another area of the body that starts to sense pain,” says Tamlyn.

Self care for neck and back pain

Not all chronic pain is treatable. Pain management is an integrated approach to making pain tolerable by learning physical, emotional, intellectual and social skills. This may include exercise, physical therapy, medication, relaxation, acupuncture, behavior changes, biofeedback, hypnosis, and counseling. When you use pain management techniques, you stay in control of your own health. These techniques also help the brain produce it’s own pain medications called endorphins, which literally means “morphine within” (see Pain Management).

Sources & Links

If you have more questions, please contact Mayfield Brain & Spine at 800-325-7787 or 513-221-1100.

Glossary

acute: a condition of quick onset lasting a short time, opposite of chronic.

chronic: a condition of slow progression and continuing over a long period of time, opposite of acute.

disc (intervertebral disc): a fibrocartilagenous cushion that separate spinal vertebrae. Has two parts, a soft gel-like center called the nucleus and a tough fibrous outer wall called the annulus.

lordosis: abnormal forward curve of the lumbar spine, also called sway back.

kyphosis: abnormal curve of the thoracic spine, also called hunchback.

vertebra: (plural vertebrae): one of 33 bones that form the spinal column, they are divided into 7 cervical, 12 thoracic, 5 lumbar, 5 sacral, and 4 coccygeal. Only the top 24 bones are moveable.

updated: 9.2018
reviewed by: Banita Bailey, RN and Lisa Cleveland, PT, Mayfield Clinic, Cincinnati, Ohio

Mayfield Certified Health Info materials are written and developed by the Mayfield Clinic. This information is not intended to replace the medical advice of your health care provider.

Photo:

What is DOMS?

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) occurs after your workout is over, generally 24-72 hours once you’ve finished exercising. It’s a very common experience for everyone—from elite athletes to novice exercisers alike. Symptoms can range from slight muscle tenderness to muscle stiffness, loss of strength and swelling, and can be debilitating. For athletes, it is most prevalent at the beginning of a sports season—when hockey players hit this ice for training, for example. It is also quite common when returning to exercise after a prolonged time away.

Causes and Cures

DOMS is often precipitated by eccentric exercise—when the muscle is shortening and lengthening—such as when you run downhill, plyometrics (exercises designed to produce fast, powerful movement) and resistance training (such as lifting weights, using bands, etc.) to strengthen muscles. Research tells us that microscopic tearing of muscles fibres is the main culprit for DOMS, says Dr. Phil Chilibeck, Chair of the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. “Many researchers believe it is inflammation that comes after the microscopic tearing that results in the ‘delayed’ part of DOMS. After microscopic muscle injury, immune cells go to the site of injury to ‘clean things up’ – in other words, repair the damage—which results in the inflammation and pain.”

Although time off from the gym and a full-body massage might seem appealing, heading back to the gym could be the best thing in coping with DOMS. “Repeated exposure to the same exercise stimulus will lessen the DOMS,” says Chilibeck. “Though you might feel the pain for a few days after doing an intense, unfamiliar muscular exercise, if you did the same exercise session a week later the DOMS would be less.” However, this is not to say you need to hit the gym hard. Ideally, you should target body parts that have been less affected, allowing the more affected muscle groups time to recover and build.

If you’re in a lot of pain, maximum strength ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory drug, can be effective in relieving symptoms. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that ibuprofen can alleviate muscle soreness, but it won’t help with muscle recovery—in other words, even though the pain might decrease, your muscles still won’t be functioning as well for a few days after performing the intense exercise. Unfortunately, while stretching is great for improving flexibility and overall performance, a good stretch at the end of your workout won’t prevent muscles soreness, either. (Slow down and follow these 10 tips for relieving the pain of aching, sore muscles.)

One of the best things you can do to diminish the severity of DOMS is to warm up before you exercise. Although this won’t entirely prevent the onset muscle soreness after a workout, it can help reduce symptoms.

Is It DOMS or Damage?

It is important to understand the difference between muscle strain and DOMS. When you strain a muscle from vigorous exercise, you can worsen the injury if you continue to exercise. In other words, if you have severely strained a calf muscle running, you will have problems walking afterwards. If you have DOMS, your muscles will be stiff and sore, but you’ll be able to walk around, and the symptoms will go away within a few days. (Follow these tips to help speed up your metabolism.)

“With DOMS, you feel the pain in the muscle if you press down on it with your finger,” says Chilibeck.

“Your muscle strength and range of motion are diminished, sometimes for days.” Time is of the essence: If the pain doesn’t go away—if it takes you more than a week to recover—you need to get yourself checked out.

The Bright Side

Remember, DOMS is temporary and is not always a bad thing. “DOMS may be needed for muscles to “adapt” to an exercise stimulus. A muscle is broken down with exercise and when it is built back up and repaired, a greater than normal amount of muscle tissue might be the result,” says Chilibeck. (Professional wrestler and “Dad Bod Destroyer” Robbie E reveals the secret to staying fit after fatherhood.)

The best thing to know about DOMS: It is a step towards getting stronger. And, you know what they say…no pain, no gain.

This is the absolute best way to build muscle, according to science.

What are the causes of unexplained muscle aches?

The most common causes of muscle aches include:

Stress

Share on PinterestStress can cause muscle aches, as well as headaches and shaking.

Stress makes it harder for the body to fight off disease. In people who are unwell and stressed, the muscles may ache as the body struggles to combat inflammation or infection.

Symptoms of stress include:

  • heart palpitations or an increased heart rate
  • high blood pressure
  • headaches
  • shaking
  • chest pains
  • feeling breathless or hyperventilating

People can try to combat stress by learning relaxation techniques and removing themselves from stressful situations where possible.

Nutritional deficit

A person may experience muscular aches and pains because they are not getting the proper nutrition from their diet.

Vitamin D plays a particularly important role in ensuring that the muscles function correctly. Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium, and a deficiency can lead to hypocalcemia.

Hypocalcemia is a condition in which the blood calcium level is low, which can affect the bones and organs in addition to the muscles.

Dehydration

A person who is dehydrated may experience muscle aches.

Drinking enough water is vital to keep the body functioning properly as it can quickly begin to shut down without adequate fluids. Dehydration causes essential bodily functions, such as breathing and digestion, to become more difficult.

People should be aware of how much water they are drinking. The recommended amount is 6–8 glasses of water each day. If hot weather or exercise causes a person to sweat more than usual, they will need to drink more than this.

Sprains and strains

Strains, sprains, and other injuries can cause muscle pain and discomfort.

People may find that a particular area of the body becomes stiff and achy if it is injured. Pulling muscles can also cause muscle soreness.

Some sprains and strains do not need treatment, but a person should rest, take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, or use heat packs to ease the symptoms.

However, if the injury is causing significant pain, restricting normal movement, or not improving with time, it is advisable to make an appointment with a doctor.

Sleep deficiencies

A lack of sleep can have a severe impact on the body.

Sleep allows the body to rest and recuperate, and a person’s muscles may ache if they do not get enough sleep.

A lack of quality sleep can also make people feel sluggish and slow. It can affect people’s ability to think clearly and make it harder for them to carry out everyday tasks.

Too much physical activity

Overdoing exercise can lead to stiff, sore muscles.

The following factors can make a person more susceptible to muscle aches and pains when exercising:

  • being unused to exercise
  • trying a new exercise
  • exercising more intensely or for longer than usual
  • failing to warm up or stretch properly

Infections, diseases, and hereditary conditions

Many different medical issues can cause muscle aches. Conditions that most commonly affect the muscles include:

  • anemia
  • arthritis
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • claudication
  • dermatomyositis
  • influenza, known as flu
  • fibromyalgia
  • lupus
  • Lyme disease
  • multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • pneumonia
  • mononucleosis, often called mono

You wake up the morning after a workout and your quads hurt so badly you can barely swing your legs out of bed. Or, on the flip side, the day after an interval session that left you drenched, your muscles feel smooth, refreshed, and completely, well, normal.

What gives? It’s no surprise that you’ll feel sore if you really ramped up the intensity of a workout from what you’re used to, or if you did something completely new. But what about your regular routine? Why are you sore as anything after some workouts, but after others, you barely feel like you did anything? And is there a common thread behind why some leave you aching and others don’t?

As it turns out, postworkout muscle soreness depends on a lot of factors, according to Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., assistant professor of exercise science and director of the Human Performance Lab at CUNY Lehman College. Here are some reasons why you might feel like you’ve been run over by a truck after some workouts, but not others—and, perhaps more importantly, what you can do to feel better fast.

What causes muscle soreness?

Aching muscles after a workout, otherwise known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), are due to micro-tears in your muscles that occur when you put stress on them, says Schoenfeld. Usually, you’ll begin to feel sore 24 to 48 hours after a workout—that’s how long it takes for your body to produce inflammation as a result of that injury, which is responsible for your muscle pain. (These micro-tears must then be repaired in order to make your muscles stronger in the long run.)

What exactly are the factors that go into why you might feel more sore after some workouts than others? We explain three major ones below.

1. How often you train

How sore you get depends on how often you train, according to Schoenfeld.

“In the early stages of training—or if you’re not used to doing something regularly—muscle soreness will be worse than if you do an activity regularly, because your muscles aren’t used to the activity,” he says. In other words, a lack of a certain activity in your routine leads to more muscle micro-tears when you finally do it. (But your muscles will get used to the activity over time and won’t tear as much anymore.)

Overtraining can have the same effect. “If you really overdid it, you could be sore for up to a week,” Schoenfeld says. Again, this is due to the fact that your muscles aren’t used to the duration or intensity of what you did, so they’re more likely to micro-tear as a result.

But because everyone is different, finding your training “sweet spot” might take some trial and error. To avoid super soreness when running, however, building your mileage slowly is your best bet—many runners follow the 10 percent rule, where you up your mileage by no more than 10 percent each week.

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2. The types of exercises you’re doing

The micro-tears in your muscles happen whether you do a long run or squat your max weight, but the level of soreness you experience because of these tears depends on the specific type of exercise you’re doing.

Eccentric movements cause more muscle damage and more inflammation as a result, which leads to more muscle soreness, according to Schoenfeld. What even are eccentric movements, you ask? According to a landmark paper published in the British Journal of Sport Medicine in 1995, “eccentric muscle activation is the controlled lengthening of the muscle under tension.” Plain and simple, it’s the “lowering down” part of exercises like leg lifts or bicep curls, for example. is also eccentric, Schoenfeld says, since your muscles are lengthening. This is why you’re more likely to be sore when you run—or hike—down a steep hill as opposed to when you go up one.

Concentric movements, on the other hand, do less damage to your muscles and therefore leave you feeling less sore, Schoenfeld says. Concentric movements are when a muscle shortens. For instance, the “up” motion of a bicep curl. Running uphill is also a concentric movement, since the muscles you’re using shorten as you climb.

3. Your hormone levels

The hormone estrogen helps protect your muscles, according to Schoenfeld, so women—who have higher levels of estrogen—tend to experience less muscle soreness than men do.

And research confirms this. One study in the journal Sports Medicine found that estrogen has “been shown to play a significant role in stimulating muscle repair and regenerative processes.”

So if you’re a guy, you can expect to be a bit more sore from the same (or similar) workouts as your female counterparts, because while men do have some estrogen, they don’t have as much as women do.

What should you do if you’re sore after a workout?

The key to remedying sore muscles is active recovery, according to Schoenfeld. “Don’t plop down on couch and not move,” he says. Just sitting around has negative effect on soreness because you’re not getting any blood flowing to your muscles to help them recover.

Active recovery—like cycling, swimming, yoga, or even walking—helps repair tissue and alleviate soreness. A postworkout massage or foam rolling to relieve sore muscles help, too, according to Schoenfeld.

But if you are ridiculously sore, Schoenfeld cautions you to not work out until your muscles feel a bit better, since you could risk an injury (a larger tear). That doesn’t mean you have to wait until they’re completely better, though—if you’ve improved to the level where you are just mildly or moderately sore, there’s no harm in working those muscles, he says. Just make sure not to overdo it—if you are really sore, doing a shorter or less intense workout might be best in the meantime while your muscles recover.

Danielle Zickl Associate Health & Fitness Editor Danielle specializes in interpreting and reporting the latest health research and also writes and edits in-depth service pieces about fitness, training, and nutrition.

Why does my body ache?

Body aches may occur for many different reasons. Most are easily treatable and relatively harmless, but sometimes body aches can be due to more serious medical conditions.

Possible causes of body aches include:

Fibromyalgia

Pain, fatigue, and muscle stiffness are all symptoms of fibromyalgia, a long-term condition that causes aches and pains throughout the body.

Fibromyalgia may result from the way the central nervous system processes pain messages when they occur in the body.

Infections and viruses

The flu, the common cold, and other viral or bacterial infections can cause body aches.

When such infections occur, the immune system sends white blood cells to fight off the infection.

This can result in inflammation, which can leave the muscles in the body feeling achy and stiff.

Medications

Some medicines and drugs, such as statins and blood pressure medications, have side effects that make the body feel sore, stiff, and achy.

Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and certain drugs, including cocaine and opiates, can also have a similar effect.

Fluid retention

When the body retains fluid, swelling and inflammation may develop, resulting in general muscular aches and pains. A person may also experience sharp, localized pains and cramps.

Conditions that can lead to fluid retention include:

  • thyroid problems, especially an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • congestive heart failure
  • cirrhosis of the liver
  • severe malnutrition
  • chronic kidney disease and nephrotic syndrome
  • venous insufficiency
  • problems with lymphatic drainage

Each of these conditions needs specific treatment, but some home remedies can reduce the impact of water retention.

Learn more here about fluid retention, why it happens, and how to manage it.

Hypokalemia

Hypokalemia is when a person has low potassium in their bloodstream.

Low potassium affects the way nerves and muscles function, which can result in body aches, weakness, fatigue, and muscle cramps.

Stress can cause tension in the body and can also weaken the immune system. This may make the muscles feel stiff, as well as affect the body’s response to inflammation and infection.

Staying hydrated is essential to keep a person’s body functioning well. Dehydration can sometimes cause a person to feel tired and sore.

Lack of sleep

Share on PinterestA lack of sleep can result in aches and pains.

Scientists think there might be a two-way link between sleep and pain.

People who experience chronic pain often find it hard to sleep. At the same time, research has found that people with insomnia often experience chronic pain.

Over time, not getting enough sleep can lead to exhaustion. This may make the body feel achy, sluggish, and heavy.

Lack of sleep also affects the body’s ability to repair tissues and cells. When the body does not have sufficient time to repair and recuperate, a person may experience aches and pains more frequently.

Pneumonia

Pneumonia is a lung infection that can be very dangerous without treatment. Pneumonia may result in an inability to get enough oxygen into the body.

Without enough oxygen, red blood cells and tissues in the body are not able to function properly, which may cause aches and pains.

Find out more here about pneumonia.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)

In a similar way to a person who does not get enough sleep, someone with CFS may experience muscular aches in addition to insomnia, exhaustion, and weakness.

Arthritis

Arthritis occurs when a person’s joints become inflamed. Arthritis can result from wear and tear on the body or may be a result of an autoimmune condition that causes the immune system to attack the healthy tissues that line the joints.

Pain and achiness are common symptoms of arthritis.

Autoimmune disorders

Various autoimmune disorders can cause body aches. These include:

Lupus: This occurs when a person’s immune system begins to attack healthy tissues, causing inflammation.

Myositis: This is an inflammation of the muscles. Other symptoms of myositis include fatigue and a general feeling of being unwell.

Multiple sclerosis (MS): This is an autoimmune condition that affects the central nervous system. People with MS feel body aches and pains because the tissue surrounding their nerve cells has broken down due to persistent inflammation.

When walking makes your legs hurt

Four conditions for leg pain causes that can affect you when walking

Updated: June 21, 2019Published: June, 2008

When walking is supposed to be good for you, why do you have to suffer with leg pains? And what causes the pain in your legs when walking? Fitness experts used to stress the benefits of heavy-duty aerobic exercise — the kind that makes you breathe hard and gets your heart going. But the message changed to moderation after a number of studies showed that physical activity that’s far less taxing is associated with lower rates of heart disease, some cancers, and several other illnesses — if it’s done regularly. Plain old walking usually tops the moderate-intensity exercise list because it’s easy, convenient, and free, and it requires minimal equipment — a comfortable pair of shoes.

The trouble is that walking isn’t so easy for everyone. Indeed, the leg pain is agony for many. And forget the “brisk” pace of three to four miles per hour advised for health and fitness.

With age — and occasionally without it — a number of conditions can result in leg pain after walking and make walking difficult. Some are very familiar, such as arthritis that makes knees and hips creaky; others, such as peripheral artery disease, aren’t.

This article looks at four nonarthritic conditions that cause leg pain and may affect walking, and some ways to treat and manage them — no need to limp and bear it!

Leg pain causes and conditions

We’re discussing these conditions that may cause leg pain separately, but people may have two or more of them at the same time, which complicates diagnosis and treatment.

1. Peripheral artery disease

Peripheral artery disease is a form of atherosclerosis, the same condition that leads to most strokes and heart attacks. Fat- and cholesterol-filled plaque narrows arteries, and blood clots can collect on the plaque, narrowing them further. In peripheral artery disease, the arteries affected by atherosclerosis tend to be the ones that supply the leg muscles. The risk factors are similar to those for heart disease and stroke: smoking, high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and especially diabetes.

The classic symptom is cramping, tight pain that’s felt in muscles “downstream” from the narrowed artery. It can occur in the buttocks, thigh, calf, or foot, but occurs most often in the calf. The pain tends to come on with walking, gets worse until the person stops walking, and goes away with rest. Similar to angina, the pain caused by peripheral artery disease comes from working muscle cells that are “starved” for oxygen because of obstructed blood flow. The medical jargon for this kind of pain is intermittent claudication, from the Latin claudicatio for limping. Many people with peripheral artery disease have other sorts of pain, though. Sometimes their legs are heavy, or they tire easily. And it’s common for people to cut back on their activity level without realizing it, which can mask the problem.

Signs of peripheral artery disease include a diminished pulse below the narrowed artery, scratches and bruises in the lower leg that won’t heal, and pale and cool skin. The diagnosis usually depends on the ankle-brachial index, which compares the blood pressure at the ankle to the blood pressure at the arm. They’re normally about the same, but if there’s a blockage in the leg, blood pressure will be lower in the ankle because of low blood flow.

Arteries narrowed by atherosclerosis leave leg muscles starved for oxygen.

Peripheral artery disease by itself can be serious and debilitating, but it may also serve as an important warning of even more serious trouble. Atherosclerosis in the legs often means there’s atherosclerosis elsewhere, and people with peripheral artery disease are six to seven times more likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or transient ischemic attack than people without it. A peripheral artery disease diagnosis should prompt a concerted effort to rein in cardiovascular disease risk factors.

Walking hurts, so a “just do it” attitude about exercise isn’t helpful. But researchers have found that tightly structured, supervised exercise programs can help people increase the amount they can walk before their leg pain kicks in. These programs usually involve walking ’til it hurts (which may be only for a few minutes), resting ’til the pain goes away, and then walking again. These walk-rest-walk sessions are most effective if people do them for about 30 minutes at least several days a week.

Low dose aspirin (75 mg to 81 mg) is often recommended to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Clopidogrel (Plavix), another drug that makes blood clots less likely by making platelets less sticky, is an alternative for people with aspirin allergy. Cilostazol (Pletal) can help people walk longer distances without pain.

Serious cases of peripheral artery disease can cause leg pain even when the person isn’t walking. This “rest pain” most often occurs in the feet. Even more serious are cases when the condition leads to tissue death and gangrene.

If peripheral artery disease is serious, or isn’t improving with exercise and medication, doctors can reopen the blocked artery with angioplasty or use part of a blood vessel from elsewhere in the body to reroute circulation around the blockage. But the track record of these revascularization procedures is mixed, and some studies suggest that the results from a structured exercise program can be as good, or even better.

2. Chronic venous insufficiency

Like peripheral artery disease, chronic venous insufficiency is a condition of poor circulation, but it involves the veins and the blood’s return trip back to the heart and lungs.

Our arteries are springy and help push blood along, but our veins are relatively passive participants in circulation. Particularly in the legs, it’s the muscles surrounding the veins that provide the pumping power that drains the vessels near the surface of the skin and then push the blood up through the “deeper” vessels that travel toward the heart. Tiny valves inside the veins even out the pressure and keep the blood from flowing backward.

In people with chronic venous insufficiency, the valves are damaged, so blood tends to pool in the legs and feet instead of traveling “north” to the heart. It’s often a vicious cycle: if the valves aren’t working, pressure from the blood collecting in the veins increases, so the veins stretch out. As a result, the valves don’t close properly, so even more blood flows backward, adding pressure.

Symptoms include swelling, inflammation of the skin (dermatitis) and the connective tissue underneath (cellulitis), and ulcerated, open wounds on the bony “bumps” of the ankle. Legs may feel achy or heavy. And when people walk, they may feel a tight, “bursting” pain, most often in the groin or thigh. The leg pain will stop with rest but may take longer to ease up than the pain from peripheral artery disease.

Damaged valves in veins means blood may flow backward and accumulate in veins.

The symptoms from a mild case of chronic venous insufficiency can be helped by lying on your back and using a pillow to elevate your legs so blood flows downhill to the heart. If you’re sitting for long periods, pointing your toes up and down several times can flex the vein-pumping leg muscles.

More serious cases needed to be treated with compression stockings that squeeze harder at the ankle than at the knee. For the stockings to work, they must be much tighter than the “antiembolism” stockings people routinely wear in the hospital. But because they are so tight, people often have a hard time getting them on. Washing a new pair can help. Some people coat their skin with talcum powder or wear thin, regular stockings underneath. Devices called “wire donners” hold the stockings open so people can push a foot and leg into it.

There are no specific medicines to treat venous insufficiency. Surgical procedures have improved significantly over the years. Nowadays varicose vein therapy has moved very far away from the old-fashioned saphenous vein stripping. That procedure involved making an incision in the groin and leg, inserting a stripping device into the vein, and pulling the vein out of the body. It usually required general anesthesia, an overnight hospital stay and weeks of recovery.

Today, physicians usually close the vein permanently rather than remove it. They use one of several minimally invasive techniques, performed through catheters inserted into the veins under ultrasound guidance. These treatments are performed in outpatient settings under local anesthesia, and the patient can walk immediately after treatment.

3. Lumbar spinal stenosis

Stenosis (pronounced ste-NO-sis) is a medical term for any kind of narrowing. Spinal stenosis can occur anywhere along the spine as a result of the vertebrae, the disks between them, or their supporting structures impinging on the tube-like spinal canal that holds the spinal cord and the roots of the nerves that branch off of it. Pain comes from the mechanical pressure, and perhaps also from the pinching off of blood flow to nerves.

The lumbar region of the spine consists of the five large vertebrae that form the small of the back. When spinal stenosis occurs in the lumbar region, lower back pain can be a symptom but often it’s the legs that are affected. The pain can resemble the pain caused by peripheral artery disease: cramping tightness that increases with walking, although it’s often felt in the thigh rather than the calf. The legs may also feel weak and numb.

In the past, the leg pain caused by lumbar stenosis was called pseudoclaudication because it was unrelated to blocked arteries, and doctors didn’t understand that it could be caused by spinal problems. Now the preferred medical term seems to be neurogenic (which means originating from the nervous system) claudication.

Vertebrae, disks, and other parts of the spine impinge on the spinal cord and nerves branching off of it.

The diagnosis starts with discussion of symptoms and medical history. One important clue is whether the pain eases when the back is curved forward, or flexed. That posture tends to take pressure off the lumbar region, and it’s the reason some people with lumbar spinal stenosis find it easier to walk when leaning on a grocery cart or a walker.

An MRI or CT scan will often be ordered to confirm a diagnosis, but imaging studies shouldn’t be used to make one. Many people have spinal stenosis that shows up on an imaging study but doesn’t cause any symptoms.

Treatment usually begins with physical therapy and exercises aimed at strengthening back and abdominal muscles. Pain relievers may help. Growing numbers of older patients are getting corticosteroid injections into the spine, which worries some experts. Evidence that the shots are effective is mixed.

If the pain persists, surgery is an option. The most common procedure is a laminectomy, which involves cutting away part of a vertebra to create more space for the spinal cord and nerves. Bone spurs and portions of the disks and facet joints can also be removed to relieve pressure. Study results for surgery are murky. The majority of patients seem to feel better for the first year or so, but the advantage over a nonsurgical approach seems to wear off after several years. A second operation is sometimes needed. On the other hand, for some, surgery greatly reduces the pain and discomfort.

4. Diabetic neuropathy

People with diabetes are prone to nerve damage, or neuropathy. Exactly why is uncertain. High blood sugar levels may damage the tiny blood vessels that supply nerves, creating “nerve strokes”: nerves starved for oxygen (ischemic) because of damaged vessels. Diabetes may also deplete the body’s store of neurotrophic peptides, chemicals that normally repair and regenerate nervous tissue.

Blood vessels (shown in red) that supply nerve cells can be damaged by high blood sugar.

Diabetic neuropathy affects the upper and lower legs in different ways. In the upper leg, the pain from ischemic nerves can come on suddenly and be felt in just one leg. In the lower legs and feet, where it is more common, the symptoms are typically numbness or tingling, and are usually felt about equally in both legs. The numbness often dulls painful sensations, so sores on the feet go unnoticed and get worse. Diabetic neuropathy can make walking difficult, but leg pain may improve with exercise.

People with diabetes can reduce their chances of developing neuropathy by keeping their blood sugar down. It’s less certain that tight blood sugar control is helpful once nerves have been damaged. Still, it’s an important goal for many other reasons. Pain relievers, tricyclic antidepressants (amitriptyline, desipramine, duloxetine), and anticonvulsants (carbamazepine, gabapentin, pregabalin) are used to control the burning and tingling sensations from neuropathy.

image: © lzf | Dreamstime.com

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As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Quick Fixes for Sore Muscles

RELATED: What You Should Know About Strength Training

It’s the eccentric, or lengthening muscle contractions, that are actually causing the soreness, says Jan Schroeder, PhD, chair of the department of kinesiology at California State University in Long Beach. Think: walking or jogging down a hill, or the lowering motion during a biceps curl or chest press. Your muscles typically sustain greater damage during these types of movements than during concentric exercises (ones where your muscle is working as it is shortening). Muscles face a lot of stress during both types of movements, but fewer muscle fibers get recruited to carry out eccentric contractions versus concentric ones (such as curling a dumbbell or pressing weight overhead), according to a review published in the May 2019 issue of Frontiers in Physiology.

Some Muscle Soreness Is a Good Thing, but It Shouldn’t Last for Too Long

Having torn, inflamed muscles may sound bad — and we certainly want to minimize inflammation in our normal daily lives, as past research has shown chronic inflammation contributes to many chronic diseases — but some degree of inflammation can be an important signal for muscle growth and repair, according to Arent. If you help your muscles recover from the damage, they’ll likely grow back bigger and stronger, “so it’s not so much that we don’t want inflammation to occur, but we want to get it under control as soon as possible,” Arent says.

RELATED: The Best Exercises for Stronger Abs

And you probably want the soreness to go away so you can get back to moving and living pain-free.

RELATED: The Best Exercises for a Stronger Back

Keep in mind that you don’t have to be sore after a workout in order for it to be effective. Soreness means damage, and damage is fine in small doses, but you don’t have to create soreness-inducing damage every time you work out. “That shouldn’t be your goal,” Dr. Schroeder says. “You don’t have to be sore to know you had a good workout.”

Does Warming Up Lessen Post-Workout Muscle Soreness?

You may have heard that stretching before your workout can help prevent injury and soreness. However, stretching your muscles before you exercise is probably not a good idea. “I’m not a fan of stretching before you start training,” Arent says.

A Cochrane review of 12 studies that looked at how stretching before or after a workout affected muscle soreness later on consistently found that stretching did not have an effect on muscle soreness within a week after a workout.

Some evidence suggests a dynamic warmup immediately before a workout could reduce muscle soreness up to two days later, but the reduction in soreness seen in the research has been very small.

6 Things You Can You Do During and After Your Workout to Ease Muscle Soreness

While there aren’t any instant solutions — your muscles just need time to heal — there are some strategies you can use to ease soreness and aid recovery. Here’s what you should know:

1. During and After Your Workout: Hydrate

It might sound obvious, but staying hydrated is an important aspect of muscle recovery. Water keeps the fluids moving through your system, which can help ease inflammation, flush out waste products, and deliver to your muscles the nutrients they need, Arent says.

The trouble is, it can be tricky to know if and when you’re dehydrated, as chances are you’ll reach dehydration before thirst actually hits, according to Schroeder. The color of your urine provides a good indication: Medium or dark yellow signals dehydration, whereas pale yellow means you’re hydrated.

Just be aware that taking vitamin supplements may cause your urine to look darker than usual. Who will be affected, and by what types of vitamin supplements? That’s hard to say. “Everybody’s different,” Schroeder says.

2. Immediately After Your Workout, Use a Foam Roller (Self-Myofascial Release)

Self-myofascial release (SMR) is a technique used to release tension in muscles and connective tissues (foam rollers, lacrosse balls, and massage sticks are common SMR tools), helping to move the fluids that accumulate in the muscle after exercise.

A review published in November 2015 in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that foam rolling may help increase range of motion and reduce DOMS. Foam rolling, as well as other types of massage, increase circulation to deliver more nutrients and oxygen to the affected area, which helps reduce swelling and tenderness, Arent explains.

If you’re interested in trying a foam roller, look for a softer version to begin with. Firmer foam rollers will allow you to apply more pressure, but they can be intense if you’re unaccustomed to them. Lacrosse balls can also be handy tools to keep around, as they’re ideal for smoothing out hard-to-reach spots, like the glutes, lats, calves, and illiotibial (IT) band, Arent notes.

3. Eat Within a Half-Hour After an Intense Workout

By feeding your muscles the nutrients they need to repair and grow back stronger, you may be able to speed up the recovery process, Arent says.

He suggests kickstarting your recovery by making sure to get 20 to 40 grams (g) of protein and 20 to 40 g of carbs into your system within 30 minutes of an intense or long workout (one that is 60 minutes or longer). (A serving of Greek yogurt with a handful of berries and a tablespoon of honey is one snack option.)

Protein is important for providing the amino acids needed to rebuild your muscles, while carbohydrates play a starring role in replenishing fuel stores your muscles used up during your workout, according to a position paper on nutrient timing published in 2017 in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

But don’t stop at the post-workout snack; you won’t help your muscles recover if you go hungry or skimp on nutritious foods the rest of the day, Arent notes. Prioritize meals and be sure to keep your daily protein intake fairly consistent so your tissues are fed a steady stream of amino acids throughout the day. Recommendations vary, but the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends consuming 1.4 to 2 g of protein per kilogram (kg) of body weight every day if you’re active, making sure to spread out the doses evenly every three to four hours. That means if you weigh 150 pounds, you’ll need approximately 95 to 136 g of protein every day.

Fruits, vegetables and legumes are also key for giving your body vitamins and minerals — like vitamin C and zinc — that promote healing, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

RELATED: What to Eat Before, During, and After Your Workout

4. Later On: Sleep

Sleep is critical for many reasons, but it’s also one of the most important components of exercise recovery, Arent says. “It may not seem like it has an immediate effect on , but it can be useful for sure,” he adds.

Non–rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, for example, increases protein synthesis (the creation of new proteins), which is needed to repair damaged muscles, according to a review published in October 2014 in Sports Medicine.

S, the post-workout phase is no time to skimp on shut-eye. Aim to score at least seven hours of sleep, as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation.

RELATED: How Much Sleep Do You Really Need Each Night?

5. The Day After a Tough Workout, Do Light Exercise

Sore muscles need to rest, but that doesn’t mean it’s best to kick your feet up and spend the day on the couch. Try to get some gentle movement through activities like restorative yoga; an easy walk, swim, or cycle; or even light resistance training. The key is to avoid doing another intense workout using the same muscle groups on consecutive days. On an effort scale of 0 to 10 (where 10 is maximum intensity), aim for an effort level of 3, Schroeder says. You want to get blood moving to the sore muscles to deliver oxygen and nutrients needed for repair — without causing more damage to the muscle tissues.

6. You May Want to Steer Clear of NSAIDs

Though you might be tempted to pop a painkiller and call it a day, Arent warns that you may sacrifice key parts of the muscle rebuilding process by doing so. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen) may ease pain associated with muscle soreness, but they may also prevent your muscles from growing back bigger and stronger. A small study published in the August 2017 issue of Acta Physiologica found that taking the maximum dosage of over-the-counter ibuprofen stalled progress during an eight-week resistance training program geared toward building muscle and strength in young adults.

© Getty / Witthaya Prasongsin Legs Too Sore to Sit Down? Here’s What to Do, According to 2 Physical Therapists

Pop quiz: what is delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)? We’ll fill in the blank for you if you’re unsure. Basically, it’s the soreness and slight weakness you feel after a really hard – or new – workout (and we mean at least 24 hours after). Though some medical professionals say that it’s unclear exactly what causes DOMS, typically, it’s believed that eccentric movements, like squats and deadlifts, where you’re lowering your body under control and essentially elongating the muscles cause microtears that lead to gradual inflammation.

Additionally, there are a wide range of suggested options for helping to treat sore muscles. Some studies rank ice over heat, some say to ice then heat, and others say that both impede recovery. The bottom line is, there are methods to help reduce the discomfort caused by DOMS, but there’s really no surefire cure. You can read more about that here.

How Do I Treat Sore Leg Muscles?

Ah, the legs. Surely feeling DOMS in the muscles that help you sit, stand, and walk is not the greatest – you know how it’s literally a pain to try and walk down stairs or even sit down in a chair – so we asked two physical therapists to break down what the best methods of treatment are. Both physical therapist Karen Litzy, DPT, and Perfect Stride physical therapist Tyler Denn-Thiele, DPT, CSCS, named active recovery as an important way to help speed up the healing process. This can include light exercise like walking, cycling, light lifting, or stretching and mobility (try some yoga!), Tyler said.

“Basically, it’s anything that gets the heart rate up without placing a high load on the tissues,” he explained, though he noted that if your muscle soreness is greater than a five out of 10 and does not go away with a warmup, you should not do that type of workout until the soreness has decreased. Here are other methods of treatment that they discussed:

Foam rolling: This doesn’t exactly speed up the recovery process, but it will temporarily (emphasis on temporarily) help relieve pain and increase range of motion after the fact because it increases blood flow to the muscles, both physical therapists said. Here is how to foam roll your calves, hamstrings, and quads.

Compression garments: Tyler named compression boots specifically.

Massage: According to a meta-analysis of almost 100 studies, a 20- to 30-minute massage that is performed immediately following or up to two hours after exercise has been shown to effectively reduce DOMS. If you can’t go to a professional (physical therapist or massage therapist), Karen suggested foam rolling as a form of self-massage.

Immersion in cold water: This might not be super practical, but it’s proven to have some effect.

Heating pads: Tyler noted that heating pads can make you feel better in the short term, which might help some people get through DOMS, but they won’t speed up recovery.

A Note on Nutrition and Sleep

Tyler said that proper nutrition and hydration are important to “give your muscles the building blocks they need to recover.” Karen agreed. Both also suggested getting around seven or eight hours of sleep per night (which you should try to do even if you aren’t experiencing DOMS) because sleep will help your body have the energy it needs to repair those muscles.

In terms of specific nutrition, Karen pointed to tart cherry juice and, according to some small studies, protein-packed chocolate milk. Also, make sure you’re staying hydrated with lots of water and eating a balanced diet.

Be Wary of Prolonged Soreness and These Red Flags

Tyler said that sore legs can be common for many recreational runners. He suggested asking yourself the following: “If you constantly have extreme soreness in the same area after different kinds of runs, my suggestion would be to figure out why. Is there something in your mechanics or current movement that is making you stress one side or muscle group more than another, or was your workout just targeting that area specifically?”

There are also certain warning signs to look out for with soreness. If you have profound weakness in your legs, Karen suggested seeking medical attention. Other red flags include bladder issues, like cola-colored urine, which may indicate a rapid breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue called rhabdomyolysis and could lead to kidney failure if left untreated. And, if DOMS persists for longer than five days after proper active rest and recovery, Tyler said to notify your doctor.

Muscle soreness in legs

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