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Sore Muscles? Don't Stop Exercising

Delayed onset muscle soreness is common after exercise and usually means your muscles are getting stronger.

Even Bodybuilders Get Them

No one is immune to muscle soreness. Exercise neophytes and body builders alike experience delayed onset muscle soreness.

"Anyone can get cramps or DOMS, from weekend warriors to elite athletes," says Torgan. "The muscle discomfort is simply a symptom of using your muscles and placing stresses on them that are leading to adaptations to make them stronger and better able to perform the task the next time."

But for the deconditioned person starting out, this can be intimidating. People starting an exercise program need guidance, Torgan says.

"The big problem is with people that aren't very fit and go out and try these things; they get all excited to start a new class and the instructors don't tell them that they might get sore," she says.

"To them they might feel very sore, and because they aren't familiar with it, they might worry that they've hurt themselves. Then they won't want to do it again."

Letting them know it's OK to be sore may help them work through that first few days without being discouraged.

Ease Those Aching Muscles

So what can you do to alleviate the pain?

"Exercise physiologists and athletic trainers have not yet discovered a panacea for DOMS," says Draper, "however, several remedies such as ice, rest, anti-inflammatory medication, massage, heat, and stretch have been reported as helpful in the process of recovery."

Stretching and flexibility are underrated, says Sharp.

"People don't stretch enough," he says. "Stretching helps break the cycle," which goes from soreness to muscle spasm to contraction and tightness.

Take it easy for a few days while your body adapts, says Torgan. Or try some light exercise such as walking or swimming, she suggests. Keeping the muscle in motion can also provide some relief.

"Probably the most important thing is to have a cool-down phase after your workout," says Draper. Right before finishing, include 10 or so minutes of "easy aerobic work such as jogging or walking followed by stretching."

At Brigham Young, Draper has been researching the use of heat remedies to treat muscle soreness. In clinical tests, a portable air-activated heat wrap -- in this case a product called ThermaCare -- applied directly to the skin was beneficial to subjects.

"When muscle temperature is increased, blood flow increases, bringing fresh oxygen and healing nutrients to the injured site," he says. "This increased blood flow also helps to wash away the chemical irritants responsible for pain."

While sore, don't expect to set personal records. Most likely, during a bout of DOMS, your exercise potential will be out of reach, says Draper. Delayed onset muscle soreness usually affects only the body parts that were worked, so perhaps you can work other muscle groups while letting the fatigued ones recover.

In a nutshell, don't beat yourself up. Just take it easy.

"Since there's a loss in muscle strength, athletic performance won't be at peak levels for a few days," says Torgan, "so it's best to plan a few days of easy exercise to prevent further muscle damage and reduce the likelihood of injury."

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