The Hippo


Nov 20, 2019








Why do we get sore?
Understanding post-activity pain

By Joel Bergeron

The last time you raked leaves, shoveled snow or hauled a few wheelbarrows of bark mulch, you may remember waking up the next day barely able to move. Your back ached, your legs felt like chopped meat and your arms were like noodles. Getting sore after being physically active just isn’t fun.  
Some people have been told that their muscles have lactic acid in them, causing them to burn and causing soreness. This is only partially true. Lactic acid is the product of rapid metabolic breakdown of carbohydrates and makes our muscles more acidic. If you’ve ever accidentally consumed sour milk, what you
taste is lactic acid.  
A drop in blood pH from the formation of lactic acid causes the burning sensation we experience while physically active. However, within an hour of stopping activity the lactic acid is removed and soreness that occurs after this time frame is a result of physiologic damage to the muscle tissue. This condition is called Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness, or DOMS for short. Soreness can occur immediately but may not appear until 24 to 48 hours after the activity.
DOMS is the body’s normal response to microscopic trauma. When we exercise or participate in an unfamiliar activity, we stress our muscles and joints in a way that they aren’t accustomed to, resulting in breakdown of the tissue. The body responds by sending fluid and nutrients to the damaged tissue, which in turn places pressure on the surrounding nerves, makes us feel sore and discourages us from using those tissues as a result of the sensation of pain. If you’ve ever twisted an ankle, you see immediate swelling and pain. These are all natural defense mechanisms our body employs to immobilize the injured joint and promote healing.
Once soreness sets in, it lasts anywhere from a few hours to 10 days, depending on how much you exerted yourself. Some soreness is so intense it may feel as if you sustained serious injury, and you may have great difficulty walking, climbing stairs or just standing up.  The good news is that there are a number of things you can do to accelerate the recovery process and get back to your old self.
Here are some tips on dealing with soreness:
1. Avoid inactivity. One of the best ways to promote healing is to keep your muscles supplied with fresh blood, oxygen and nutrients. Light activities such as walking, swimming, or bicycling are all great ways to ‘flush out’ your muscles, sweeping away old toxins and delivering nutrients.
2. Stay hydrated. Maintaining water levels aids in the healing process by helping your body deliver what it needs to damaged tissue. Check the color of your urine. If it’s bright yellow, drink more water. If it’s light or clear, you’re doing OK.
3. Use heat, then ice. Placing a heated pad on a sore spot helps send blood to the area and loosen it up, but can also make it become more swollen. Follow up with 8 to 10 minutes of icing and repeat. This promotes blood flow to the area and accelerates recovery. Repeat two to three times daily, allowing at least 60 minutes between cycles.
4. Stretch. Sore muscles respond by tightening up to restrict activity. Gently stretching helps remobilize the tissue, enhances blood flow, and decreases resting tension. It also helps calm irritated nerves that are responsible for the sensation of soreness.
5. Rest. While it’s important to avoid complete inactivity, it’s also important to slow down long enough to let your body heal.  Make sure you’re getting at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night (optimally 9-10). Your tissue regenerates up to 25 times faster while you’re asleep as compared to while you’re awake.
Nobody enjoys being sore, but understanding what causes it and how it happens helps limit our downtime.  If you have the option of spreading a chore out over time, this is another great way to decrease or potentially avoid being sore altogether.  Remember, it’s the exposure to an unfamiliar activity or volume of work that triggers the soreness response.
Do you have a question about health and fitness that you’d like answered in The Healthy Hippo? Email Joel Bergeron at Joel is a former NCAA D1 and professional sports coach and holds a master’s degree in sport science. Be sure to check with your doctor before changing your eating habits or embarking on a new exercise program. 


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