Why are muscles stiff after overexertion exercise

As I felt my quads slowly stiffen up the next day from the running test last week, I was reminded that no-one _really_ knows why that happens, or indeed what it is…and one of my Iron Buddies asked me yesterday about what to do about stiff muscles…so here it is 🙂

Medical science isn’t very highly evolved in _really_ understanding how the human body works…we’re really at the stone age level of knowing if we cut this or that, what might happen…or if we do ‘this’ something gets better…usually…but understanding how it all _really_ works, is well beyond our current understanding.

Lot’s of website references on how to ‘treat’ stiffness (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness…DOMS), but not what causes it in the first place

The Mayo Clinic says:

Cold first: To relieve pain associated with sprains and strains, it’s usually best to first apply a cold compress for about 20 minutes at a time every four to six hours over the first few days. Cold reduces swelling and inflammation and relieves pain. For a cold compress, you can use a cold pack, a plastic bag filled with ice or a bag of frozen vegetables; wrap it in a dry cloth or towel to help prevent frostbite.

Then heat: Start using heat after pain and swelling have decreased, usually two to three days after the injury. Heat relaxes tightened and sore muscles and reduces pain. Heat is usually better than cold for chronic pain — such as from arthritis — or for muscle relaxation.

Apply heat to the injured areas for 20 minutes up to three times a day. Traditional methods include using a heat lamp, hot water bottle, warm compress or taking a warm bath or hot shower.

…and one other reference for the record:

As athletes, we get stiff muscles, if we overexert…like in a race or in the maximal test that I did…you would think that someone would know why that happens, but there is no current consensus.

As I was growing up, ‘lactic acid’ was thought to be the culprit…sounds nasty enough…’acid’ and all that…could be it…well some call it ‘lactate’, although they are really different things, and come to find out that although it’s been thought to contribute to the ‘burn’ (acidosis) we feel while exercising…well wait now, that’s no longer the case…ongoing controversy on what causes acidosis in the first place…and lactate is gone out of the system within an hour, so generally off the table as a cause of stiffness…hmmm.

Recent attention has turned to a more or less logical thought that it’s due to minute tears or ruptures to the muscle fibres, and the surrounding connective tissue.  Elevated levels of an enzyme, ‘creatine kinase’, have been seen in blood samples of ultra-marathoners the next day, and deemed to have ‘leaked’ from damaged muscles…but why the ‘stiff’ feeling?

The long and the short of it, is that there a ‘theories’ but no final consensus.

So what?

The thing that I was reminded of is that we are all a science experiment of one…how our body reacts to exercise stress, this exercise program or that one, or this diet or that one, is very unique to us…more unique than we would ever dream possible.

With all the problems in the world, it’s not likely that an exhaustive research program will be launched to determine the root cause of DOMS.

If it really is torn up muscle tissue, should we continue to push those muscles and trash them further…probably not…although I know lots of buddies that do back to back workouts on worn body parts, and seem to be no worse for the wear

…an article at Livestrong.com on working out with sore muscles.

Science experiment of one…the only thing that’s important is what works for you…oh…and see my recent post on how to adjust a workout if it’s just not happening 🙂


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