If you’ve had a particularly hard workout, and your muscles are sore even a couple of days after exercising, is it safe to exercise them? According to the American Council on Exercise, the answer depends on the severity of muscle soreness, which can range from slight tenderness to debilitating pain.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) happens one to two days after exercise. The most likely cause of DOMS is microscopic muscle tears or a breakdown in muscle tissue that occurs during a workout. Introducing new activities or suddenly increasing the intensity can cause DOMS to occur.
During periods of severe muscle soreness, a person has impaired coordination, less shock absorption, and a shortened range of motion. If you exercise while very sore you are likely to alter your body mechanics putting more stress on ligaments and tendons and therefore increasing your risk of injury. Overreaching is the state of training intensely without rest.
Watch for any of the following signs or symptoms, and take a few days to a few weeks off if these are present:
- Increased resting heart rate
- Depression or mood disturbances
- Increased incidence of colds and flu
- Overuse injuries
- Muscle and joint soreness
- Decreased appetite
- Plateau or worsening of performance not improved with rest or reduced training
In either case, you’re better off resting to allow your body to recover and seeking a medical professional if necessary. If you’re only slightly sore, exercise can bring relief, although only temporarily. Take it easy by doing light resistance exercise (such as core stabilization exercises) or by doing low intensity cardio (such as walking). Better yet, exercise muscles other than the ones that are sore.
Remember that muscles don’t grow during a workout, only during rest periods following exercise. If you don’t allow your body to recover, you won’t see the benefits of your workouts.