Starting to exercise, finding regular time for health sports and keeping up a routine can be quite difficult. Add to this the muscle soreness that sometimes accompanies exercise, and staying on track can be a challenge.

Depending on the type and intensity of the workout, muscle pain can range from barely noticeable to extremely painful. Find out why muscles sometimes ache after exercise and whether it can be avoided, explained by Fysio+ physiotherapist Merle Kärsin.  

Why do muscles hurt?

According to Merle Kärsin, the main cause of muscle pain is training at higher loads. After light and moderate exercise, muscle soreness usually does not occur.

Kärsin explains that muscles need energy to move. How a muscle generates energy can vary depending on the type of exercise. During aerobic exercise (such as walking, light jogging or cycling), muscles use oxygen to generate the energy they need. Muscle soreness usually does not occur after such light exercise. 

During vigorous exercise (such as lifting weights, training at maximal pumps or high-intensity interval training), muscles produce energy anaerobically, i.e. in the absence of oxygen. This means that oxygen does not reach the muscle fast enough to keep up with the energy required by the muscles. 

When muscles produce energy anaerobically, lactic acid is produced as a by-product. While earlier theories held that lactic acid formation in muscle tissue was the cause of muscle soreness following exercise, more recent theories claim that lactic acid disappears within an hour or so of intense exercise, i.e. that lactic acid disappears before the onset of muscle soreness, signalling to the body that the muscles have worked really hard and need to recover.

Kärsin confirms that this kind of muscle pain is not harmful, but indicates that the muscles are tolerating the stress. As training sessions continue and the amount of training increases, the threshold at which muscles become sore after training is pushed back. It could be said that this is more related to an increase in training.

Physio Merle Kärsin says that learning to listen to your body’s reactions to exercise will definitely reduce unpleasant muscle aches. Photo: private album

Kuidas lihasvalu vältida?

Kärsin points out that nowadays there are various products available to prevent muscle pain – for example, you can buy supplements and gels to speed up recovery. However, they should not be taken lightly. 

“Muscle soreness should rather be taken as information about your physical fitness and used as a basis for your next training session,” says Kärsin.

He advises that situations should be avoided where, after a break from training or a period of illness, the same workload is resumed as at the last training session. It is in these situations that muscle soreness is quick to develop. 

Gradual increases in training load and pre-exercise warm-up (for example, in the form of exercises or light aerobic training) can help to reduce or prevent muscle soreness following exercise. It is also advisable to drink enough fluids during exercise to restore water and mineral levels in the body.

Muscle recovery can also be speeded up by muscle conditioning right at the end of a workout, whether it’s foam rolling or light stretching.

How to relieve pain?

However, if your muscles are sore after training, muscle care can help to alleviate the pain and speed up recovery. Cooling gels or creams, cold therapy, massage, hot tubs and saunas can also be helpful. 

An excellent at-home muscle treatment option is to work larger muscle groups with either a foam roller or tennis ball, which can be followed by light stretching exercises. However, intensive stretching is not recommended, says Kärsin.

You can find the tools and wellness products you need for muscle care and exercise on Stebby website HERE. For information on sports massage options, see HERE.

But is it wise not to train harder because of slightly sore muscles? Or would training with a reasonable workload benefit the body?

Merle Kärsin says that in case of mild muscle soreness there is usually no need to interrupt the training plan, it is smart to increase the proportion of muscle maintenance.

However, if you’ve been overdoing it and you’re experiencing a lot of muscle soreness, it’s really wise to skip the harder workout and go for a lighter workout instead.

“Light exercise promotes blood circulation, helps nutrients reach the muscles and normal muscle condition recovers faster,” explains Kärsin.

She also stresses that a healthy diet and adequate sleep are essential to feeling good after training. “You should definitely not exercise when you’re undernourished and tired,” emphasises Kärsin, adding that learning to listen to your body’s reactions to exercise will definitely reduce the risk of unpleasant muscle aches.

You are the one who understands your shape and health best. If you’re not feeling well, give yourself a break before you mess up.

If you would like to ask a physiotherapist for advice, you can find service providers across Estonia on Stebby HERE.

To be on the safe side, it is also advisable to go for a check-up from time to time – find a suitable test on Stebby HERE.

For professionals who can help you set up training and nutrition plans and guide you on how to exercise properly, see see HERE.

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