Pushing your body so hard during your workout is bound to come with some consequences. The faster and longer you go, the greater the recovery challenge for your muscles. Muscles don’t immediately recover for a few reasons, ranging from soreness to injury. How you treat your muscles following a workout directly affects their recovery process.
Injuries During a Workout
When you work out, your muscles can cramp because of muscle fatigue or due to low sodium or potassium. During your exercise, your muscles constantly contract and release. When your muscles contract, the fibers shorten to produce tension. When they release, the muscles lengthen. If your muscles cramp, the fibers remain shortened. If you force them to stretch, you can tear the muscle, which causes injury to the fibers. Being properly hydrated, fed and not overly fatigued can help you avoid these injuries.
After a workout, your muscles can tighten up. This is called delayed onset muscle soreness. It causes that stiffness or pain you feel about 24 to 72 hours after working out. If you perform a lot of eccentric contractions, such as lowering a weight or running downhill, you increase the intensity of delayed onset muscle soreness. This is because this type of contraction causes small ruptures within your muscles. The soreness usually disappears within 72 hours. The best way to avoid this type of muscle pain is to gradually increase the intensity of any new workout routine.
Alleviating Soreness With Exercise
If you're suffering from delayed onset muscle soreness, then the best way to work it out of your system is by moving. Moderate-intensity exercise helps alleviate soreness. Go for a brisk walk of 30 to 60 minutes instead of taking the day off. This increases blood flow to your muscles, which accelerates the recovery process. Unfortunately, stretching won’t relieve sore muscles, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If your muscles aren’t recovering after a hard workout, follow the R.I.C.E principle. Begin by resting. Taking a break from your workout can give your muscles a chance to repair themselves. Place an ice pack on the sore muscles for 15 to 20 minutes, three times a day. If you're experiencing any swelling, use a compression bandage. Finally, elevate the swollen limb to help reduce swelling. And as a delicious post-workout tip, drinking chocolate milk also helps your muscles recover, according to “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise” in 2012.
When to See a Doctor
Some muscle pain will go away on its own, but not all. If the pain lasts longer than a week, then it's time to schedule a doctor's visit. Other clues that you may need professional help include signs of infection, such as swelling or redness, and poor circulation to your legs. If you have sudden, severe muscle pain that won’t go away or you think you have a muscle rupture, go to the doctor right away. Seek immediate attention if you have extreme muscle weakness, dizziness or trouble breathing.
Fitzalan Gorman has more than 10 years of academic and commercial experience in research and writing. She has written speeches and text for CEOs, company presidents and leaders of major nonprofit organizations. Gorman has published for professional cycling teams and various health and fitness websites. She has a Master of Arts from Virginia Tech in political science and is a NASM certified personal trainer.