Every guy experiences muscle pain the day after a really good workout, no matter how fit he is. Workout soreness can last several days, and can make you wish you never had to climb stairs, stand up, or bring your fork up to your face. But sometimes a slight twinge, a sharp pain, or a dull ache pops up somewhere or other after a workout, and you wonder—is it just muscle pain? Should you continue on? Or do you risk sustaining an injury that could keep you from reaching your fitness goals? The dull ache you feel in your muscles the day after has an actual scientific-y name. It’s called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS. It’s believed that DOMS is caused by microscopic tears in your muscle fibers that occur when the muscles are taxed. This is not a bad thing; as the tears are repaired, muscle mass increases and the muscles themselves strengthen. The more often you do a specific workout, the more accustomed to it your muscles will become, and the less you will experience DOMS. There’s no proven remedy for DOMS; the best strategies to combat it are the classic ones, such as icing your muscles, taking a warm bath, and using over-the-counter pain medications like Tylenol or Excedrin. Stretching before or after a workout hasn’t been proven to prevent DOMS, although gentle stretching can ease DOMS pain.
So should you work out when you feel the pain? Exercising through DOMS isn’t necessarily harmful. If you don’t relish the idea, you can let your muscles rest for a day or two and take a light jog or a brisk walk if you feel especially energized.
What if you’re in serious pain, or your pain lasts longer than a few days? As long as the pain is muscular and an all-over sort of pain, it’s still probably DOMS, and will likely subside eventually. More intense pain can occur if you’re new to a particular workout, or if your workout was more grueling than usual.
However… If you experience excess pain in one specific area, you may have strained or pulled a muscle, a ligament or a joint. Though you can work out other muscles, let that area rest until the pain is gone. The next time you do work out that area, check your form to make sure it’s correct, and make sure you aren’t using more weight or resistance than you can handle.
If you experience swelling, bruising or warmth, if you feel pain in your joints rather than your muscles, if you can’t put pressure on one of your extremities without significant pain, or if you lose full range of motion in one of your extremities, do not continue to work out, as you could cause an injury or make a minor injury worse. If rest, icing affected areas, and OTC analgesics don’t work, if an injury worsens, or if, after you have recovered you incur the same pain the next time you work out (in spite of taking it easier), consult your physician. You may have sustained a serious injury, you may have underlying joint issues, or you might be working out beyond your capacity When it comes to your health, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.