Sore Muscles After Exercise: Should You Keep Working Out?

istock_000011049171xsmallYou’ve just switched to a new exercise routine, and your muscles are feeling pretty sore. Muscle soreness is a sign you’ve challenged your muscles, but the soreness and stiffness can make it hard to get around for a few days. The overwhelming temptation when your muscles ache is to relax in an easy chair and skip the gym entirely. Is this a good idea?

What Sore Muscles Mean

The soreness and stiffness you experience when you first start working out or when you change your routine is called delayed-onset muscle soreness or DOMS. It’s referred to as delayed onset, because you may not feel the soreness until 24 to 48 hours after a workout.

DOMS happens when you challenge your muscles enough to cause microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. These tears cause localized inflammation that causes pain. Fortunately, once the soreness goes away you won’t experience it to the same degree unless you challenge your muscles in a new way since your muscles will rapidly adapt to the stress.

Should You Still Work Out if You Have Sore Muscles From Exercise?

When you’re sore, the last thing you feel like doing is heading to the gym. But doing a modified workout can help alleviate some of the stiffness. Working out with achy muscles from exercise won’t prolong the soreness, and you’ll probably feel better once you start moving. The key is to lighten up on your workout.

DOMS only affects the muscle groups you used, so you can still work other muscle groups until the sore ones recover. Another option is to swim or take a brisk walk for a low-impact workout. Workouts that emphasize stretching such as Pilates and yoga are good options when your muscles are sore from overuse. While it’s been shown that stretching doesn’t reduce your recovery time from DOMS it does help keep you active which in turn helps to reduce stiffness.

Doing a modified workout is usually better than doing nothing at all because moving around reduces the stiffness. If you don’t overdo your workout, you’re not going to aggravate the soreness. Once you finished your workout, massage the muscles you just worked. Some studies show this helps reduce pain and discomfort. Cold packs and stretching may also help increase blood flow to the muscles and reduce inflammation.

Is There a Way to Prevent DOMS?

Some studies show that drinking tart cherry juice before and after a workout helps. Tart cherry juice has natural anti-inflammatory properties, and it contains ingredients that block the same enzymes that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications do.

Other research shows that antioxidants such as vitamins C and E have the potential to reduce soreness after exercise. These antioxidant vitamins help counteract the free radicals formed by the inflamed muscles. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish such as salmon and available in supplement form may also reduce the inflammation of DOMS. A study published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine supports this. One more reason to add wild caught salmon and vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables to your diet.

The Bottom Line?

There’s no reason to avoid the gym just because you have muscle soreness after exercise. Lighten up on your workout or do some stretching or yoga moves. It’ll help reduce the stiffness and allow you to stay active.



J Athl Train. 2005 Jul-Sep; 40(3): 174-180.
IDEA Health and Fitness Association. “DOMS”
Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine: March 2009 – Volume 19 – Issue 2 – pp 115-119.


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