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Muscle Pain and Soreness

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Updated April 02, 2012

You need to know what kind of pain or discomfort is normal with a workout and what is a sign of injury.

Delayed Muscle Soreness

The day after a new or hard workout, many of us experience a dull pain and ache in the muscles we used. This is normal -- it is thought to be caused by microscopic damage to your muscles and connective tissue. Your body repairs this damage and builds stronger muscles and tissues as a result. But you need to allow a full day of recovery time for the body to do this.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

Pain During a Workout

Your muscles may hurt after several repetitions of an exercise, especially if lifting weights. This is the "going for the burn" that you may have heard weight-lifters speak of, and is to be expected. It is also normal to feel a mild, temporary ache of your muscles after a long walk, run, bike, or bout of another cardio exercise. It should end as soon as you stop doing the activity. If it doesn't, you could have a strain or injury. Check the danger signs of injury to determine if you should seek treatment.

Danger Signs of Injury

If you experience any of the following symptoms, stop exercising immediately and seek treatment:
  • Sudden, severe pain
  • Swelling
  • Extreme tenderness
  • Extreme weakness in a limb
  • Inability to place weight on a leg or foot
  • Inability to move a joint through its full range of motion
  • Visible dislocation or broken bone
  • Numbness or tingling -- this could be a sign of nerve compression and should especially not be ignored.
Danger Signs of Sports Injuries

Muscle Cramps

Muscle cramps often arise when you are exercising and losing fluids and salts through sweating. But if you are new to an exercise, muscle fatigue alone can trigger these involuntary, painful contractions. The cramp will usually force you to stop what you are doing. Find a safe area to gently stretch and massage the cramped muscle until it relaxes.
Muscle Cramps

Treatment for Muscle Pain: R.I.C.E.

For any muscle pain, swelling, or inflammation, the R.I.C.E. method can help reduce damage and speed healing:

R -- Rest: Stop whatever you are doing that is causing the pain. For sprain and strains, take weight off the affected limb. For delayed soreness, rest the sore muscle group for a day.
I -- Ice: Cold therapy will help reduce inflammation and risk of further damage it can cause. It's important not to expose skin directly to the ice. Wrap ice, or an ice pack, in a towel to apply it indirectly. Ice the area for 10 to 20 minutes, four to eight times a day. Don't apply ice for more than 20 minutes, or you risk cold damage. Don't apply heat immediately to an injury, either -- this can increase swelling, bruising, or internal bleeding. Heat can be used once healing is progressing, days later, to help relax the muscle.
C -- Compress: Wrapping the injured limb in a snug elastic bandage can help reduce swelling.
E -- Elevate: Raise the injured limb above the level of the heart to help reduce swelling.

Sources:
Handout on Health: Sports Injuries, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, NIH Publication No. 04-5278, April 2004.

Muscle Cramps, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, March, 2001.

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