June 28, 2017

The science of soreness!

We all know about muscle soreness. Some (strange) people enjoy it but flapping about like a beached seal and not being able to scratch your head isn’t our idea of fun!

Why do we get sore? Is it dangerous? Should we stop exercising? How do we know what it is dangerous (physio time) and just plain muscle soreness?

Here we go. In short, here is the science:

Placing any stress on your muscles after a period of inactivity OR if you are activating the muscles very intensively will cause small microscopic tears, known as micro-trauma, in the muscles. The body immediately starts to repair these tears by filling the muscle with oxygen and nutrients, which causes muscle swelling. The swelling nudges the nerves and they scream ‘PAIN’!

DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness)

Muscles can also tighten up some time after exercise. DOMS can be felt as pain and stiffness in the muscles for 24 to 72 hours post-exercise.  DOMS is most intense following exercises that focus on eccentric contractions where a weight is lowered or slowed (downward phase of a bicep curl, or downhill running).  

DOMS can be prevented by gradually increasing the intensity of a new exercise program.  While the soreness will usually disappear within 72 hours of onset, increased blood flow to the sore area, either by moderate intensity exercise or massage may help alleviate soreness.  Stretching does not prevent soreness however, it is still important to perform some static (holding) stretches after exercise to maintain or improve flexibility.

Hydration, fueling, appropriate exercise progression and stretching will help prevent DOMS and maintain range of motion, respectively.

Also to consider:

Poor posture

During periods of prolonged inactivity, for example, long days and weeks working at a desk, some muscles can get tight as a result of their restricted movement.  When you are seated at a desk, your hips are in a bent, or flexed, position. This puts the muscles on the front of the hip (hip-flexors) in a shortened position, and the muscles on the back of the hip (glutes) in a lengthened position. In addition, as you sit at a desk reaching forward to work on a computer, your chest muscles (pectorals) will be in a shortened position, while your upper back muscles (rhomboids) will be in a lengthened position.

Over time, this can result in muscle imbalances with the shortened muscles becoming “tight” and the lengthened muscles becoming weak.   If you look around you, you’ll notice many people have developed poor posture with forward rounded shoulders and underdeveloped glutes.

How to help

1)It is important to maintain PROPER POSTURE, even while seated.

2)You should also specifically STRENGTHEN THE SMALL MUSCLES which have become lengthened and weak.

3)Lastly, you should make sure to STRETCH THE TIGHT MUSCLES, specifically the chest and hips.

Muscle Cramps

Another time when muscles tighten up is during exercise, for example, a muscle cramp.  Cramps are unpleasant, often painful sensations caused by a variety of factors that include muscle fatigue, low sodium, or low potassium.  Muscle cramps can also happen even when you’re not exercising.

When muscles contract, the muscle fibers shorten, increasing tension in the muscle. When the contraction is completed, the muscle fibers lengthen and decrease tension. During a muscle cramp, however, the muscle fibers remain shortened and are unable to lengthen due to fatigue or improper hydration and nutrition.  Forcibly stretching the muscle when it is in such a tight, contracted form can tear the muscle fibers and lead to injury.

How to help

1)Allow the muscle spasm to relax and recover before attempting to stretch out the cramp.

2) In order to prevent these from occurring in the future, make sure to be PROPERLY HYDRATED & PROPERLY FED, and not overly fatigued when exercising.

3)If engaging in exercise bouts lasting longer than 60 minutes, consuming an electrolyte replenishing drink may help prevent muscle cramps.

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