Almost every active person has occasionally experienced muscle stiffness after exercise. Beginners, in particular, are susceptible to this because the muscles have not sufficiently adapted to the effort. The sensitivity in the muscles after exercise usually manifests itself in the calves, thighs and in the back. Is it possible to speed up muscle pain relief, and how does this phenomenon actually arise?
What is the cause?
As a result of physical exercise, we can distinguish three types of muscle pain: stiffness after exercise (injury), acute pain due to muscle cramps and muscle pain that gradually manifests itself the day after exercise. This latter form is also called delayed muscle pain. Depending on the training intensity, it becomes apparent after about 12 hours and may persist for a few days.
Immediately after the activity, the blood flow in the muscle is so high that you do not immediately notice that ‘mechanical damage’ has occurred in the muscle. Muscle pain is most severe after about 24 to 48 hours, and after three days, it usually disappears or diminishes considerably. After a recovery period, the muscle tissue has been able to adapt to the new load, so that the next load is easier for you and the body will react less afterwards.
The theory that muscle pain caused by an accumulation of lactic acid is no longer tenable. Contemporary insights tell us that this phenomenon can be attributed to minor damage to muscle fibres due to physical strain.
Muscle cell damage is a natural process that is part of the muscle tissue build-up and breakdown cycle. As a result of muscle damage, all kinds of physiological processes occur in the body that is partly responsible for the sensitivity of the muscle tissue, namely:
Symptoms and eccentric training
Muscle pain does not only have negative sides. It also has a preventive effect. The symptoms (pain, stiffness and loss of strength) that may occur after exercise makes you temporarily more inactive. This protection mechanism benefits the recovery process and protects you from further damage to muscle fibres and even injuries. Moreover, the swelling that occurs during the recovery causes more pressure on the nerves, so you have less control over the relevant body part.
It is mainly recreational athletes who are sensitive to muscle pain. You can feel it, for example, if you pick up a sports activity after a while. Muscles have to get used to the load and can then protest. This phenomenon is also not unknown to top athletes, but since a top athlete is better trained than a recreational player, habituation to a top athlete is more likely to occur in the muscles. Although muscle pain is often associated with strength training, it can also be associated with endurance training.
The phenomenon occurs in both concentric and eccentric contractions and is mainly caused by this latter muscle contraction. An eccentric muscle contraction is a movement in which the muscle increases in length during tension. An example of such a movement is imprinted. With the downward movement, your chest muscle is extended under tension.
How can you relieve muscle pain?
Muscle pain simply disappears by allowing your sufficient body rest, giving the body free space to recover naturally. For those who don’t want to wait for that, there are some ways to speed up muscle sensitivity and fatigue.
This sports supplement is best known among strength athletes, and its purpose is, among other things, to promote muscle growth. Now there appears to be another role for amino acids. Some studies have shown that the essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine contribute to a faster recovery of muscle strength loss and to reducing muscle pain.
It is suggested that low-intensity cardio training can reduce the amount of muscle pain. There is insufficient evidence for this within science. What research does show is that with light cardio training, you reduce muscle fatigue. With this, you stimulate the blood circulation so that the waste products are removed more quickly and you experience a less heavy feeling in the muscles shortly after training.
A massage is also sometimes used to reduce muscle sensitivity. Research shows that a massage can provide some relief, although for most of the athletes that effect is not large and short-lived. The effect of a massage is determined by, among other things, the timing and intensity.
Other methods that have been investigated are cryotherapy (ice baths), alternating baths, antioxidants, stretching exercises, homoeopathy and ultrasound. Research shows that none of them has (virtually) no added value in combating muscle pain. To date, there is more evidence for the intake of amino acids and some massage techniques.
What preventive measures can you take?
You can also take preventive measures to minimize the chance of muscle pain and recover faster. The best remedy is not to ignore the signals from the body, a gradual training structure and a balanced diet. Some continuity within your training objective is also important. With irregular training, it is difficult for the muscle to get used to the load, which can cause muscle pain again and again.
Regularly recurring muscle pain can also indicate an overload instead of an effective training incentive. To provide sufficient room for recovery, it is advisable not to overload the muscle again in the short term. Light cardio training is still possible. How long the muscles must recover also depends on the intensity of the training stimulus.
If you want to do strength sports, you can also choose a protein shake for prevention that also contains leucine, isoleucine and valine. These three amino acids are the three most important essential amino acids for muscle recovery and are also called BCAAs. Whey protein is preferred because it contains more BCAAs than soy protein and casein and, moreover, these amino acids are of better quality.