By Dev K. Mishra, M.D.
President, Sideline Sports Doc
Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University
• Muscle soreness is very common when you start a new exercise, or are coming off a period of rest
• Most muscle soreness is manageable with simple steps such as active recovery, hydration, proper nutrition, massage, and rest
• Seek professional medical evaluation for anything that you would describe as persistent pain
It seems this week that every young athlete coming in to the office is sore. Legs sore, arms sore, back sore, sore all over. What’s going on here? Is it okay to be sore and just play through the soreness? Is there anything that can be done to reduce the soreness? When is it time to stop and take a break? First of all, you want to make sure it’s muscle soreness and not a joint issue, or a muscle tear. If there was a definite injury event (such as a hard tackle, fall to ground, etc.), if there was a feeling of a “pop”, if there was rapid onset of swelling, or if you are having what you would describe as significant pain then you’ll need a visit to a physician.
If none of those apply to you, and if you have generalized muscle soreness or fatigue you most likely have a common condition called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
DOMS happens when you subject your body to a new physical activity, one that your body wasn’t accustomed to doing. Essentially you’ve switched up your workout and surprised your body with something totally new. If you were taking a month off in July and then started aggressive two a day camp in August, your body is doing something new. If you’re an experienced runner who typically runs 3-5 miles on flat terrain and you switch to aggressive hill sprints you’re doing something new. The exact process behind DOMS is not completely understood, but from the athlete’s point of view you’re going to be sore.
Generally it will be okay to continue training through the soreness, as long as you’re not in significant pain and as long as your performance is reasonable. At this time of year many young athletes won’t have a good option- you’ll need to do what’s required of players trying out for a fall sport team.
But there are some things you can do to minimize the soreness. Pay close attention to hydration, proper nutrition, and get as much rest as possible. Massage can also help speed recovery time. If your coach is knowledgeable then he/she has likely put some active recovery time in to the preseason workouts. On those especially bothersome days it would be better to do a light run or stationary bike; something low intensity that will help with blood flow to the muscle and assist the muscle to recover.
At the end of the day you might not have many options, you’ll need to go along with the coach’s plan for the team. In a good program, you should be sore, and then not sore. And then you should be sore again if you add intensity or change up an exercise. In other words, constant pain does not necessarily equal maximum muscle gain. If you’re a young athlete and you’re in pain all the time I’d recommend that you seek professional evaluation from a sports medicine physician. Otherwise, do your best to hang in there. Eventually the two a days will be over!