Sore muscles – development, prevention, treatment

Aching muscles are muscular pains that occur after unaccustomed greater stress. The main causes of muscle soreness are unaccustomed, unusually long or strong physical activities, which often occur in connection with the overestimation of one’s own resilience. This pain occurs with a time delay and only during movement, especially when the corresponding muscles are stretched.

As a rule, muscle soreness becomes noticeable after half a day to a full day and subsides again after three to five days. The main causes are unaccustomed greater strength demands, such as those that occur during strength and fitness training in the fitness club. The so-called eccentric contractions in particular, i.e. the muscle works and is stretched at the same time (example: walking downhill), provoke the undesired muscle pain.


Pathophysiology of sore muscles

For a long time it was assumed that sore muscles combined with lactic acid production during the previous training session. The more intense the muscle work, the higher the lactate formation (lactate = salt of lactic acid) and even worse the sore muscles due to hyperacidity.

This hypothesis sounds plausible on first reading, but must be rejected on critical examination for the following reasons:

  • According to the lactate hypothesis, the strongest muscle soreness should occur immediately after a 400m run, because this is where the highest lactate peaks can be measured.
  • but it occurs more often after strength training, where lactate is produced in much smaller amounts.
  • The half-life of lactic acid is approximately 20 minutes. However, muscle soreness occurs at different times.
  • After 12 to 24 hours the lactate level in the blood has long since returned to normal. However, muscle soreness remains.
  • Muscle soreness usually occurs in beginners or with unusual movements. Lactate formation occurs in advanced athletes with the same strain as in beginners.


Recent research

  • Muscular man in strength training
    Even “muscle packages” get aching muscles

    “Electron microscopic examinations have shown that an overloaded muscle has fine cracks in the muscle fibers. The muscle shows tiny injuries,” explains Prof. Andreas Imhoff, sports orthopaedist at the Technical University of Munich.

  • The individual muscle cells (= muscle fibers) are connected by connective tissue Z-disks.
  • Overloading of the muscles leads to fine tears in these discs as a result of mechanical overloading, to small injuries of tiny blood vessels in the muscle and thus to local inflammation.
  • This eventually leads to an increased accumulation of water (edema) in the muscle fibers over the course of one to two days, which causes the muscle fiber to swell and stretch.
  • The resulting limited stretchability with stretch pain is probably responsible for the aching muscle soreness.


Preventive measures against sore muscles

  • The often heard the advice “Training is only good if you have aching muscles afterward” is just as absurd as an exaggerated fear of it.
  • Whoever returns to strength training after a long training break will find it difficult to avoid slight muscle soreness.
  • Extensive warming up and down is sensible prevention.
  • Ebenso it helps to dose unusual loads and new exercises moderately at the beginning.


Behavior in case of sore muscles

  • heat (e.g. red light, fango, warm baths, etc.) alleviates pain as does a visit to the sauna or whirlpool. The increased blood circulation enables faster healing.
  • Massages only very easily around

This post is also available in: German

William C. Hilberg
As an author, Mr. Hilberg has published several papers on health issues that have gained international recognition. He is close to nature and loves the seclusion and activity as a freelance journalist. In his function as editor William C. Hilberg manages the entire content of PENP. Our team greatly appreciates his expertise and is proud to have him on board.