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The Why of Muscle Soreness and How to Tackle It

We have all experienced pains and aches the day after a hard and immensely satisfying workout at the gym or home. Though it is often a good indication that we have worked our muscles and maybe even pushed to stress the muscle groups more than our usual workout average, it may also be indicative of lactic acid build-up or torn micro-ligaments or muscle tissues from overuse.

Each of us has a lactate threshold. It simply means the level of exercise intensity when our body produces lactic acid. Thus, if we have a low lactic threshold, our body will produce lactic acid at low levels of exercise intensity. You may wonder how this connects. Here is how:

During any exercise or workout, energy is released by burning fuel (glucose) by our bodies. During this process of energy creation and release through metabolization of carbohydrates and proteins, a by-product compound called pyruvate is formed among others. If the system does not have sufficient oxygen to remove this compound, it converts to lactic acid.

If we are endurance exercising or working out at anaerobic levels, the body does not possess enough oxygen to oxidise and flush out pyruvates, which then quickly turn into lactic acid. Similarly, if we stop our workouts abruptly, we have effectively cut off instead of tapering off high oxygen supply to our system. This lack of oxygen again causes pyruvates to turn into lactic acid. The same holds true for low lactic threshold persons. Such bodies start to produce pyruvates at low intensity of workouts and face higher chances of lactic acid deposits. A body’s lactic threshold is a function of (or dependent upon) the concentration of enzymes required to oxidise pyruvates Lactic acid not only sits on worked out muscles (lower back, strength trained biceps, triceps, deltoids, lower back etc) but also tends to accumulate at limb ends/body extremities causing us pain or burning sensation in the worked out muscles.

However, lactic acid diffuses and disperses fast in our bodies and pains that last beyond 24 hours could be indicative of muscle fibre damage or muscle failure that occurs due to muscle workout in the absence of oxygen.

Tackling muscle soreness is best done through mild stretching exercises. Do not sit out in immobility but do not go for a workout session either. Muscles should never be exercised in pain. Light movement and massage or any activity that increases the flow of blood mildly to moderately to the sore muscles to bring on healing, along with ice pack application or even an over-the-counter topical muscle relaxant are the best bets. If your pain extends beyond Day 2, you could be looking at micro muscle or ligament damage and it is imperative that you see a doctor.

Until the next week, Keep fit and keep safe.

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