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Should You Exercise If Your Muscles Are Sore?

Starting a new workout routine or increasing the intensity of your current routine can leave you sore the next day. You may not want to return to the gym when it hurts to move, but most of the time you don't have to worry about injuring yourself further. Returning to the gym may even help you feel better, as exercise can relieve muscle stiffness and improve your general mood with endorphins.

Causes of Soreness

When you exercise, moves that stretch and lengthen the muscles, known as eccentric moves, can cause tiny tears in muscle cell membranes. Inflammation from these tears leads to soreness the next day. The soreness resolves on its own after a few days, but in the interim, moving the muscle may cause pain, and the muscle may feel stiff and weaker than usual. Scientists note that higher levels of creatine kinase in the muscles after exercise may contribute to soreness. If you injure yourself during exercise by spraining or straining a muscle, you also can experience swelling and muscle soreness.

Injury Versus Routine Soreness

Routine muscle soreness usually peaks about 48 hours after your workout and resolves in 72 to 96 hours. You usually won't feel much, if any, pain right after your workout, but you may wake up the next morning stiff and sore. If you injure yourself while exercising, you'll usually feel the pain right away. An injury often will be accompanied by swelling or bruising. The pain may wake you up at night. The pain doesn't resolve after a few days. If you suspect an injury, you should see a doctor and refrain from exercise until you get the OK from your physician. Exercising with an acute injury could cause further damage.

Exercise With Sore Muscles

If the pain you experience is because of sore muscles and not an acute injury, it's OK to exercise. A study by Kazunori Nosaka and Mike Newton, reported in the 2002 issue of the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" found that repeating eccentric exercise while you were still sore from an earlier exercise session didn't increase injury to muscle fibers or result in higher creatine kinase levels. Participants in the study didn't recover from soreness at a slower rate than those who didn't repeat their exercise session.

Coping With Muscle Soreness

Soaking in a hot tub or a warm bath may ease muscle soreness. Other people find relief with ice packs. Gentle stretching or massage also can relieve the pain. Warming up the muscles with stretching, gentle walking or biking can help to prevent some soreness.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.