I’m a Movement Expert and My Muscles Are Sore!

December 13, 2021

By Mary Rose Strickland, PT, DPT, OCS

Last week I upped my lower body strength training and wow was I sore the next day. It is common after completing a workout or doing strength exercises to experience soreness. The question becomes how to manage that soreness and is there a way to make it go away? In this article I will address the top three things you SHOULD do and top three things you SHOULD NOT do, in managing your muscle soreness. After reading, you will understand your body better and feel confident in handling those sore muscles.

Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is very common after exercises that strengthen our muscles. This soreness usually shows up within 24 hours of performing specific exercise, and can last up to 48 hours. It actually is a good sign that we are working our muscles in an unfamiliar way and unaccustomed intensity, which is what is needed for strength gains. If you want to get stronger, move faster, perform life better, you need to work and push your body, at times, beyond regular daily activities. DOMS is the result of temporary muscle fiber disruption and even inflammation. Sounds scary. But it’s actually not. This process triggers our body to repair and put down new (and more!) muscle fibers. That results in our muscles growing and bodies getting stronger.

Now that we understand why we get DOMS, let’s discuss what to do about it. Here are three things you should do when experiencing DOMS:

  1. Go for a walk.
  2. Massage the muscles – with your hand, foam roller, or massage gun.
  3. Stretch your sore muscles.

You should NOT:

  1. Cancel your plans or activities you were planning on doing and sit on the couch all day.
  2. Put ice on your muscles.
  3. Take medications for your post-workout muscle soreness.

It is very important to KEEP MOVING when you are experiencing DOMS. This helps to keep blood flowing through your body and will assist in your body feeling better faster. Canceling your plans and sitting on the couch is NOT advised; even though it sometimes is what we feel like doing!

Instead, perform some self-massage techniques. This can be simply with your hand, or if you have a foam roller or massage gun those can be very helpful tools. Want to know my favorite foam roller and home massage gun? Email me at DrMaryRose@newlifept.com and I’d be happy to share a link! The mechanical pressure not only helps to increase blood flow, but is even thought to change the chemicals our body is experiencing in a way that still allows us to gain results we desire. Another option is using heat – let your sore muscles sit in a nice warm shower or bath, or use a heating pad for 10-15 minutes. I do advise heat over ice. Ice makes vessels constrict which may make our muscle hurt more in this situation.

Finally, stretching is a great active recovery exercise that also promotes blood flow and gentle movement. This also can help balance your body’s needs for mobility with the strength you are working towards. Make sure your body is warmed up prior to stretching. This can be a 5-minute walk before or after a cardio exercise or activity. Stretch after your strength training as well as the next day. This will serve your body much better than taking anti-inflammatories for your DOMS. The entire point of our strength is to get our body to respond, adapt, and grow. We don’t want to chemically interfere with that natural process.

It is important to note that delayed onset muscle soreness is a very different thing from pain. Joint pain, muscle pain after injury, etc. If you are experiencing actual pain (and not just simply delayed muscle soreness) that is something you should have checked out by your physical therapist. Find out why you hurt and get on a path to succeed in doing life’s important things. Not sure if what you are experiencing is pain vs. soreness? Email me at DrMaryRose@newlifept.com and let’s figure it out together.

The next day after my workout last week, I could barely go down the stairs at first, squatting to get a pan out of the low cupboard was uncomfortable to say the least, and getting up and down off the ground to play with my toddlers was anything but fun. As a movement expert who has been treating patients with these issues for over 11 years, what did I do? I had already been rubbing and pushing on my muscles from immediately after the workout yesterday. I did some more of that while sitting at breakfast. As soon as I was able, I got the kids in the stroller and we went out for a walk. I started slow but my muscles loosened up and my goal of a 30-minute walk turned in to a 60-minute walk because the weather was just so nice and my kids were enjoying finding new wild flowers along the road on our way. Once we got back from our walk, I snuck 5 minutes of stretching in before getting lunch ready. Once the kids were napping I took advantage of the quiet time to take my favorite 30 minute online yoga class that focused a lot on the hips and lower body. Later in the day I got our massage gun out and hit the muscles one last time after weeding the garden and playing with my family outdoors. Once the kids were in bed, I ended the day with a warm bath with some Epsom salts. My legs felt fantastic going to bed.

Clearly this was a Saturday as I had the luxury of added time to do all of those things. No worries if you don’t have that kind of time. I have also done these types of workouts in the middle of my work week. I did make sure to still get out for a walk as I think that is one of the most helpful things for my body. But the massage and stretching I just snuck in a little here and a little there throughout the day and was sure to not sit at my computer in one spot for too long. Consider utilizing a sit-to-stand desk, rocking your hips side to side and front to back, and making frequent trips to the water cooler – hydration is also a great way to help with your DOMS! Bottom line: keep moving!

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