Post exercise soreness is the pain you feel in your muscles after unaccustomed exercise – and it’s not the same as trigger point pain. It is a specific and fascinating phenomenon.
Everyone has had it. You go for a long bike ride or a run or some other exercise after a long lay-off. You don’t feel too bad when you finish and congratulate yourself. However the next morning you wake up with a deep nasty ache in the muscles you used most- often your butt. You also feel really stiff. You try rubbing liniment into the area, taking some pain medications, stretching etc- but nothing seems to help much.
You hobble around for 2-3 days and then your pain & stiffness go. You actually feel rather well. If you then decide to exercise again- often you really do feel fine and have no symptoms later.
So – what has happened?
You started off unfit- which means that many of the cells in your muscles were not efficient at all. When you started exercising, the cells required constant and sufficient Oxygen from your blood in order to work aerobically. This is by far the most efficient way for the muscle cells to function.
However, the demand for oxygen far exceeded your blood supply and the weakest cells initially switched to anaerobic respiration – this is another way to create energy. It is really not efficient and the cell starts breaking down its own structure to provide the energy. They quickly build up waste products and the weakest cells actually die.
If you take a biopsy of muscle 2 days after such exercise and look down a microscope- you will see ‘streaming or smudging’ in some of the muscle cells. These cells have died and are being reabsorbed by your body.
At this time you get post exercise soreness. You feel stiff and achey and kind-of old. This is not surprising once you understand that you are killing off your weakest muscle cells. This is also why having a massage or some other treatment doesn’t really help the pain much.
But all is not lost. Once the cells die. They are reabsorbed and the remaining cells increase in size to fill the gaps. These are healthy and efficient cells.
So now, your muscle is actually much more healthy, strong and vital than before.
This process is often called ‘hardening’ by athletes and their coaches. So post exercise soreness is actually necessary for peak performance.
It shows the remarkable ability your body has for self regeneration.