Sore Muscles: Recovery of Aching Muscles


Why do muscles often ache for days? Alpecin Cycling addresses the phenomenon of sore muscles and provides tips for recovery.

They appear insidiously. When the work is done – usually the day after a race or a hard training ride they make themselves painfully felt – sore muscles. Legs ache and get heavy. But how do sore muscles develop and how can they be avoided or alleviated? “Sore muscles are the result of a strenuous muscular activity and not, as previously wrongly assumed, of lactate accumulation in the muscle,” explains sports physician Dr. Lutz Graumann. “Muscle fatigue and cell damage are the causes of muscle soreness, whereby micro cracks in the muscle occur,” Graumann explains.

Sore muscles: painful micro cracks in the muscle fibres

The pain, which usually occurs with a delay, is due to a swelling of the muscle caused by the water stored in the tissue. “This swelling of the muscle fibrils then increases the pressure that we feel as pain,” says Dr. Graumann. However, the perception of pain varies greatly from person to person.

“Anyone who cycles in a relaxed manner for 90 to 120 minutes and pedals with a low level of resistance or on a flat road will not get sore muscles or hardly feel them at all – the effort is too little. However, if the athlete does a demanding mountain training at low cadence or high resistance sprint intervals, muscles get much more strained and can be damaged,” Dr. Graumann explains the differences in training intensity.

Often, however, sore muscles are also caused by imprecise motion sequences and a lack of technique. “A single pedalling cycle activates many muscles, some of which have to work simultaneously but also one after the other.

If, for example, the ankle does not follow the movement because it is immobile, it slows down the other muscles or demands movements from them that they do not really want to make. The danger of a microtear is thus pre-programmed,” says Dr. Graumann.

Whether cycling, running or playing tennis – smooth, precise technique and motion sequences help to prevent damage to the muscles. “In addition, especially in endurance sports, the duration and intensity of the load should be increased slowly so that the muscles can get used to it and grow to sustain the increasing load”.

In comparison to our cardiovascular system the muscles need considerably longer to adjust to the increasing training load. “Sore muscles may prove that I set an intensive stimulus, but the resulting injury, which may lead to a longer rest phase, in turn reduces the desired training effect,” says Dr. Graumann.

Recovery for sore muscles

Once the muscles are sore, rest and, depending on the type, very light movement such as easy cycling or swimming usually help. In the acute phase, cold may also be helpful. It does not only improve blood circulation, but also quickly relieves muscle pain after strenuous phases, i.e., training sessions.

The extreme cold of the water causes the blood vessels to contract, which should lead to a reduction of internal bleeding when micro muscle fibre cracks occur,” says Dr. Lutz Graumann.

However, the physician does not think much of a stretching programme for the affected muscle areas: “The tensile stress puts additional strain on the muscles and can even prolong the healing process”. Instead, Doc Graumann recommends a recovery roll-out of the muscles after they were strained – for example with a Blackroll.

In addition, nutrition can also be used to limit muscle damage. “Essential amino acids such as those contained in dairy products help, for example, in the reconstruction or repair of destroyed fibres,” explains the sports physician.

Sore muscles: hands off painkillers

The physician does not think much of taking painkillers for sore muscles, as they actually increase the underlying problem. “Most painkillers inhibit the body’s blood clotting.

This means that the micro bleedings around the injured tissue turn out even more dramatic,” explains the physician and adds: “There is still an inflammation in the tissue which is part of the self-healing process and should therefore not be suppressed by painkillers,” Graumann concludes.