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Muscle Soreness: Origin, Prevention, and Regeneration

As a yoga teacher, I am often asked about muscle soreness. Sore muscles - a faithful companion of our sporting ambitions. But what exactly is behind this pain? And how can we tame it without jeopardizing our training progress?

Although we all know muscle soreness, there is still uncertainty about what it actually is, what it means for our yoga practice or our training, and how to deal with it. With this article, I want to answer all your questions comprehensively and ensure that there are no ambiguities left.


To avoid simply passing on "myths and half-truths", I rely on scientific publications on the topic, which I list under references. If you notice anything in the blog post that should also have been mentioned or if you have a question about the topic that has not yet been answered, please feel free to leave me a comment. As far as I can tell, this blog post contains everything worth knowing about the topic for us yogis (or movement enthusiasts). Enjoy reading!


Yoga teacher explaining a new asana.
When we learn new flows and asanas it can lead to muscle soreness.

What is muscle soreness?

Muscle soreness is an unpleasant pain that occurs 12 to 72 hours after an unfamiliar or intensive exercise. The fine muscle fibers suffer microscopic tears, which leads to inflammation and pain.


How does muscle soreness develop?

The exact cause of muscle soreness is not yet fully understood. However, it is assumed that the following factors play a role:

  • Eccentric muscle contractions: Stretching of the muscle during contraction. An example of this would be Trikonasana (Triangle Pose):

    • Muscle group: Adductors (inner thigh muscles)

    • Movement: Bending the body to the side and supporting yourself with your hand on the ground

    • Eccentric contraction: The adductors are stretched while they simultaneously stabilize the body in the pose

  • Microscopic tears in the muscle fibers: These tears lead to inflammation and pain.

  • Metabolites: Accumulation of metabolites such as lactate and creatinine, which can irritate the muscle fibers. These metabolites are probably only an indirect factor in the development of muscle soreness. What is lactate and what role does it play in the development of muscle soreness? What is creatinine and what role does it play in the development of muscle soreness?

    • Lactate is a metabolite that is produced when the body gains energy from glucose without oxygen.

    • During intensive exercise, the lactate concentration in the muscles can increase sharply.

    • Lactate can irritate the muscle fibers and lead to pain.

    • However, most studies show that lactate itself is not a direct cause of muscle soreness.

    • Rather, lactate seems to be an indirect factor that can favor the development of muscle soreness.

What are normal symptoms of muscle soreness?

The inflammation caused by muscle soreness manifests itself as follows:

  • Pain: The pain receptors in the muscles are activated and send signals to the brain.

  • Pressure sensitivity: The muscles feel sensitive to touch.

  • Stiffness: The muscles are less mobile.

  • Feeling of weakness: The muscles are weak.

How are muscle adaptation and muscle soreness related?

Muscle soreness is not necessarily a sign of an efficient workout, nor a reliable sign that muscle adaptation (growth and strengthening of the muscle in response to muscle injury) is taking place. It can also occur if you have not warmed up sufficiently or have increased the intensity of your training too quickly. However, muscle soreness can be an indicator that you have used new muscle fibers. Muscle soreness occurs especially when we strain our muscles strongly and in unfamiliar ways. This can happen, for example, when we:

  • Start training or start again after a break.

  • Try a new sport.

  • Significantly increase the intensity or duration of our training.


Why can muscle soreness be absent despite efficient training?

Over time, the muscles get used to the strain and muscle soreness occurs less often. This is because the muscles adapt and:

  • Become thicker (hypertrophy): The muscle fibers grow and become more resistant to tears.

  • Can store more energy: The muscles store more glycogen, which provides energy for contraction.

  • Work more efficiently: The muscles learn to use energy better.

In addition, the following factors play a role:

  • Genetics: The predisposition to muscle soreness is individually different.

  • Age: The probability of getting muscle soreness increases with age.

  • Gender: Men get muscle soreness more often than women.

  • Nutrition: An adequate intake of proteins and carbohydrates can promote muscle regeneration.

Should you continue training with muscle soreness or should you take a break first?

Whether or not you should continue training with muscle soreness depends on the intensity of the pain.


Mild muscle soreness: Light training is possible and can even relieve the pain.

Severe muscle soreness: It is better to take a break and give your body time to regenerate.


Recovery time for severe muscle soreness

The recovery time for severe muscle soreness can be up to 72 hours. During this time, you should get enough rest and avoid strenuous activities.


Additional measures for pain relief and faster regeneration

  • Warmth: Warmth promotes blood circulation and can relieve muscle pain (for example, a warm bath or sauna).

  • Massage: A massage can also loosen tension and relieve pain.

  • Movement: Gentle movement can promote blood circulation and help muscle soreness subside faster.

  • Sufficient sleep: Sleep plays an important role in muscle regeneration and in the healing process of muscle soreness. During sleep, various processes take place that are important for the repair and growth of muscles:

    • Hormonal control: The release of growth hormones (HGH) is increased during sleep. HGH promotes protein synthesis and muscle growth.

    • Inflammation: The inflammation that leads to muscle soreness is reduced during sleep.

    • Blood circulation: The blood circulation of the muscles is increased during sleep. This promotes the transport of nutrients and oxygen to the muscles and helps with regeneration.

    • Brain activity: During sleep, neural connections in the brain are strengthened that are important for controlling the muscles.

  • Drink enough: Water transports important nutrients to the muscles and helps with regeneration. An average water consumption of about 3 liters per day is recommended. You should avoid alcohol consumption: it delays muscle regeneration.

  • Magnesium: Magnesium helps some people to prevent and treat muscle soreness. Especially if you are prone to muscle cramps, you should inform yourself about the benefits of taking magnesium. However, also make sure that you drink enough, as dehydration can also contribute to muscle cramps.

  • Use of painkillers: In severe cases, painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol can help. However, ibuprofen and paracetamol inhibit protein synthesis, which is necessary for muscle growth, and taking ibuprofen or paracetamol can delay muscle regeneration, which in turn can impair muscle growth.

  • Electrostimulation: The use of electrostimulation devices can promote muscle regeneration.

  • Compression therapy: The use of compression stockings or bandages can promote blood circulation and reduce swelling.


Recovery time for mild to moderate muscle soreness

With mild to moderate muscle soreness, it is possible to continue training the next day, as long as you do not overdo it with the intensity. Training can even relieve the pain and promote regeneration. The following activities are suitable:

  • Light cardio training: walking, cycling, swimming

  • Yoga and Pilates

  • Stretching


It is important to listen to your body and not to overexert yourself. Rest and relaxation play an important role in your health!


Is muscle soreness good or bad? The bottom line.

Muscle soreness is normal and even a sign that we have done something good for our body. In most cases, it is harmless and goes away on its own after one to three days. However, with time and a good training routine, it can be avoided or only occurs when we move in a completely new way or significantly increase the training intensity.


Note: This blog post is for information only and does not replace the advice of a doctor or sports physician.



References:




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