Does sore muscles get better when you move?

When you exercise, does the muscular pain grow better or worse?

It doesn’t matter whether you’re hauling moving boxes up to the third story or going back on your bike after a few months break because the weather is finally nice. The days that follow are likely to be filled with the discomfort of aching muscles. Heat, protein drinks, massage, or further exercise are some of the home remedies that are believed to combat the discomfort in the muscles. These treatments are similar to those that are used to treat hangovers caused by drinking too much alcohol. But what is it that helps relieve aching muscles?

Microscopic tears instead of lactic acid

The factors that lead to aching muscles are not yet completely understood. There is a consensus on the time, which is that muscle soreness appears around one to two days following strenuous activity that the muscle has not been acclimated to or trained for. Descending motions, like jogging downhill or ascending downstairs, are known to be especially painful for the muscles because they cause the muscles to contract more forcefully. When this happens, the muscles make a small amount of lactic acid, which was once thought to be the cause but wasn’t. This shows that there must be other reasons for the condition.

Instead of an excess of lactic acid, it seems that muscular soreness is caused by microscopic tears in the so-called fibrils that are contained inside the muscle fibers. These lengthy units, which are composed of the protein myosin and thinner actin filaments, are the actual participants in the job that muscles do. They are responsible for ensuring that the muscle fibers contract and relax again.

Microscopic muscle tears.
Microscopic muscle tears. Credit: ResearchGate/Niels Holten-Andersen

The discomfort may be alleviated with a little activity and heat

These tears heal fully on their own; nevertheless, the process of healing itself is very painful. To be more specific, the injured muscles first inflate, and because of this, the nerve terminals are subjected to more pressure. The damaged muscle also becomes more rigid and less mobile than it was before. Because of this, the discomfort doesn’t start until much later. It takes some time for the swelling to become noticeable.

Heat and gentle exercise are also helpful in combating this stiffness, which, if nothing else, lessens the discomfort. However, the muscle that has been strained should not be worked out vigorously at this point. It is not essential to massage the strained muscle since there is already an adequate supply of blood in it. The body’s natural ability to heal itself is superior to any outside intervention, and the pace of this process cannot be sped up. The discomfort should have faded within ten days at the very latest, at which point one may resume regular training. If the pain persists for a significant amount of time, it is best to see a doctor. After two to three weeks, aching muscles will have entirely recovered.

The training impact is shown as muscle discomfort

During the process of healing, the muscle is concurrently prepared for the next intensity: the repaired fibers are now stronger than they were before. Because of this, muscle soreness is typically no longer experienced after training for a total of two sessions at the same intensity level.

When muscles that have not been exercised are subjected to stresses they are not accustomed to, it is nearly impossible to avoid muscle soreness, and warming up and stretching before the event do not help. The only method to avoid experiencing muscle discomfort for an extended period is to begin physical exercise cautiously and gradually ramp up the intensity. The muscles will eventually become stronger as they learn the correct movement sequences, which may be accomplished by this additional method. Stretching and warming up before participating in sports is essential since not doing so increases the likelihood of suffering more severe muscle injuries, such as sprains or tears in the muscle fibers.

The muscular fiber tear is the next level of muscle discomfort; in this case, not only the fibrils inside the fiber tear are affected, but often a whole fiber bundle as well. The time needed to recover from this injury is much longer. In addition to this, unlike a painful muscle, it does not heal without leaving traces of changes, nor does it help the muscle to get stronger. Instead, scar tissue forms, making the affected tissue even less effective than it was before.

By Bertie Atkinson

Bertie Atkinson is a history writer at Malevus. He writes about diverse subjects in history, from ancient civilizations to world wars. In his free time, he enjoys reading, watching Netflix, and playing chess.