Everyone who has started an exercise program has experienced it – the next day – stiffness, pain, grimacing at the thought of standing up after sitting, the slow shuffle.
The question is, what’s typical pain and what’s the sign of an injury.
When stressed by doing something radically different, the body experiences trauma to the muscles, not trauma like going 10 rounds with Mike Tyson, but microscopic damage to the muscles. Damage is a negative word, and in most cases, it’s a healthy process of the body rebuilding itself and, like the Six Million Dollar Man, getting stronger and faster.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is normal and perfectly OK but a pain in the butt.
The fibres in the muscle belly are damaged by the contraction process and the cells flooding with lactic acid. It sounds terrible, but this is how the body triggers the rebuilding process. When you start an exercise program, this is normal as the body gets used to it.
How do you prevent DOMS, and how do you mitigate it? Avoid doing too much, too fast, with too little ability. For example, if you are starting a running program, it means doing a walk-jog program for six weeks and not a continuous run. If you are in a gym for the first time since Anne Murray was on the charts, do not attempt a complete workout. A light warm-up on a treadmill would be 10 minutes of walking followed by 15 minutes of exercises and, most importantly, 15 minutes of stretching.
DOMS usually resolves itself in 72 hours. Treat it by drinking as much water as you can, walking until warm, followed by light stretching and anti-inflammatory pain medication.
DOMS will become less of an issue if you stay at your new routing and allow the body time to adapt. Do not use it as an excuse to quit exercising.
A common sore area is the gluteus maximus (your butt) can be confused with damage to the low back or sciatica. If the pain persists after 72 hours and there is any numbing or tingling in the legs, then you do not have DOMS – you have hurt yourself. Call your GP or physiotherapist and book an appointment for a diagnosis.
In the meantime, continue to treat the pain with drinking fluids, ice packs, stretching and a pain reliever. One tool I strongly recommend is a yoga strap. For those not endowed with flexible bodies, it’s a great way to get help obtaining a deeper stretch.
If you are old enough to have wanted a Trans-Am in high school, take a graduated approach to exercise – the first month needs to be very easy and build up slowly, so you don’t blow a piston. Burning rubber from the start line will not give you Two Tickets to Paradise, just a Highway to Hell.
Ron Cain is a personal trainer with Sooke Mobile Personal Training. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.