Most of us have probably experienced muscle swelling or soreness after a workout. Although this doesn’t happen all the time, this swelling often happens after having intense workouts. But what causes this pain in the first place?
Muscle soreness or swelling is a common consequence of hard and vigorous exercises like intense weight lifting, lengthy sessions on a stair climber, and sprinting around the track. When our muscles are working hard, they produce a substance known as lactic acid. Lactic acid can cause irritation and discomfort to the muscles, which can then lead to uncomfortable swelling. However, muscle swelling caused by lactic acid only lasts a few hours after a workout. For the kind of swelling that stays for two days or more, there’s a much different explanation.
When we try to subject our muscles to workouts far beyond their capacities, the muscles will often tear. When this happens, white blood cells, along with other fluids and nutrients, flow to the muscles to repair the damage. The sudden influx of these elements causes the swelling. These substances continuously flow through the muscles until they are fully repaired. The damage, in this case, is microscopic, and the amount of it depends on the intensity of the workout. This explains why some swelling can last for two days, and some can last for up to five.
A common misconception among some fitness enthusiasts is that muscular swelling is required for better muscle growth. However, muscles still grow and individuals do get stronger even when they don’t experience swelling. Muscular swelling does cause several uncomfortable consequences like difficulty in walking, reduced strength, and being uncomfortable for several days.
An anti-inflammatory agent may come in handy as a remedy for muscle swelling. One thing to keep in mind is that there’s a certain difference between taking an anti-inflammatory agent before and after a workout. Several studies have revealed that taking an anti-inflammatory drug (like ibuprofen) before exercise, instead of after, can prevent more swelling and soreness. In some cases, gym enthusiasts rely solely on stretching to help either prevent or reduce muscle swelling following their workouts. But careful investigation exposed that stretching provides no notable contribution to the prevention or reduction of muscle soreness.
Massages can also help in reducing swelling of the muscles. Several studies have shown that those who received massages after their work outs reported 30% less muscle swelling compared to those who didn’t receive one. There are some people who still insist in continuing their work outs even when they have muscle swelling. If you’re in this group, it is important to determine the specific part of your muscle that has swelling. You may then try making that certain muscle undergo some exercises. If the soreness does not get in the way of your work out, by all means, continue. But if the soreness worsens, it is better to take a rest, rather than overexert your body with some additional exercises, which only causes you to need more time to rest, recover, and grow.
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