Burning, aching, tenderness and stiffness are just some descriptors of the discomfort you may feel in the muscles you exercised one to two days ago. For the most part, these sensations you experience after exercise are collectively known as delayed onset muscle soreness. Although the pain is rarely serious and should diminish soon, you may be able to prevent some of it. Moreover, you should know when to see a doctor about it.
You are more likely to experience post-workout aches and burns if you’ve just started a new type of exercise or recently increased the frequency, duration or intensity of your previous workout. Your muscles need time to acclimate to new demands. You’re also more likely to experience delayed onset muscle soreness when your workout includes a lot of eccentric contractions, according to Health Services at Columbia University. An example of an eccentric contraction is the lengthening that occurs when you lower the weight after a biceps curl.
As long as the burning sensations you feel following exercise aren’t related to a more serious injury, the soreness should reach its peak within 24 to 48 hours after you workout and decrease spontaneously after about 72 hours, according to the American Council on Exercise. During this time, it’s in your best interest to avoid straining the affected area of your body. You may find some relief by icing it, taking a warm bath, massaging it and doing some gentle stretching, but none of these methods are known to fully treat delayed onset muscle soreness.
Go slow and steady when starting a new workout program and when increasing the intensity of your current program. For instance, put in only about two or three days of weight training per week for the first one or two months and gradually add in days. Or, if you want to add intensity to your current running program, add a few minutes to the duration or slightly increase the speed; don’t try to run faster and longer on the same day. Cutting back on exercises such as downhill running and heavy resistance training can also help because these activities require intense or frequent eccentric muscle contractions, according to the American Council on Exercise. No matter how experienced you are, warming up prior to every workout with at least five minutes of gentle exercise will help you avoid shocking cold muscles by working too hard at once.
Get in touch with your primary care physician if your muscle burning persists longer than one week or if you notice any swelling or redness in the affected muscles, according to recommendations from the University of Maryland Medical Center. Get help sooner rather than later if the burning is severe and persistent or recurring or if you believe you have a serious muscle rupture or strain. Seek immediate medical attention if your muscle pain is accompanied by extreme weakness, lightheadedness, breathing difficulties or a stiff neck and high fever.
- Sports Injury Clinic: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
- Health Services at Columbia University: Is Rest the Best Relief for Muscle Soreness from Intensive Training?
- Health Services at Columbia University: Muscle Soreness and Weight Lifting
- American Council on Exercise: Don’t Be a Sore Loser
- University of New Mexico: Treating and Preventing DOMS
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Muscle Aches
- Thinkstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.