A few days after some of my runs I find I am sore! Is this normal? Why does the soreness appear several days after a workout? Is there anything I can do to prevent this? Will this go away after awhile or is this something I need to get used too?
Yes, it’s normal… within reason. What you are experiencing is known as Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness or DOMS. The soreness is due to muscle damage and it does not appear until two or even three days following a workout. For a time, it was thought that DOMS resulted from the presence of lactic acid in the muscles but research has shown this not to be the case.
Research indicates that DOMS is most often associated with exercise that involves eccentric muscle contractions. Eccentric contractions cause microtrauma to muscle tissue on a very small scale. This microtrauma stimulates the pain receptors within the soft tissue causing the pain. Eccentric muscle contractions occur when the action involves muscle lengthening during the contraction rather than muscle shortening. This is best illustrated with the biceps curl. During the upward action of the curl, the biceps muscle does a concentric muscle contraction, meaning the biceps muscle shortens as it pulls the lower arm up towards the shoulder. However, on the downward or lowering phase of the biceps curl, the biceps muscle lengthens as the arm and the weight are returned slowly to the start position. This lengthening type of contraction is referred to as an eccentric contraction. In the body-building world, eccentric contractions are also called “negatives.” In running, our quadriceps perform eccentric contractions when we run downhill, meaning the muscles are lengthening but are also contracting as they perform the action necessary to allow us to run downhill without falling on our faces. The eccentric contraction is why we experience more muscle soreness after a downhill workout than after a run on flat ground. The good news is muscle tissue rapidly adapts to eccentric contractions and therefore when the exercise is performed again at a later date, we are at less risk of muscle soreness.
Within reason, DOMS is considered a normal part of the conditioning process. Unless you are excessively sore, it is OK to continue performing light intensity exercise while sore. This is why recovery days and rest days are an integral part of the training process. Easy run days or completely off days give your body time to heal and adapt to these new physical stresses. Without rest and recovery days, we can potentially overwhelm the body, leading to an increased injury risk.
Tips to help ease DOMS:
- Gradually increase exercise intensity by increasing weekly mileage using the 10 to 20 percent rule. Introduce speed work or hill runs in small increments.
- Wearing compression clothing may help reduce DOMS by reducing muscle micro-tearing. Try wearing compression socks, compression shorts, or compression tights.
- A warm bath using Epsom salts
- Replenish fluids immediately after a run. Experts recommend consuming 2 quarts of fluid for every hour of running.
- Eat foods high in carbohydrates and proteins within 15 to 30 minutes of completing a run. High-glycemic foods like baked potatoes are a good choice because they are absorbed into the bloodstream quickly. Protein should be from lean meats, eggs, dairy, or vegetable sources.
- Always include a cool-down period after your run. Walk for 10 to 20 minutes after your run and then perform some simple stretches. When doing gentle stretches, hold them for 30 seconds, no bouncing. Massage therapy and/or foam rolling can also improve circulation and help minimize soreness.
- Taking a cool bath following an intense workout may help prevent soreness by minimizing the inflammation response. Place an ice pack on any areas that feel over-worked or strained. An easy swim after a run may also help relieve muscle soreness too.
All the best to you!
Susan S. Paul, MS