No pain, no gain, right? If you’ve been using your muscles at the gym or on the sports field then you can expect to feel a little soreness. But when is it more than that? And how do you tell the difference?
About your muscles
There are about 600 muscles packed inside your body, which work by contracting or relaxing to cause movement.
Some of those movements are deliberate acts on your part, such as when you do a burpee or pick up your toddler.
Others happen involuntarily, usually to keep important functions running your body. Your heart has to keep beating to send blood around your body (yes, your heart is a muscle). And your lungs have to keep breathing, inflating and deflating thanks to your diaphragm, your intercostal muscles and your abs.
There are three main types of muscle in your body:
- Cardiac muscles that keep your heart beating (these move without your conscious awareness)
- Smooth muscles that sit in places like your digestive tract, uterus and arteries (these also move without your conscious awareness)
- Skeletal muscles, the specialised tissues attached to your bones that allow movement.
Your skeletal muscles are under your conscious control, enabling you to choose your movements. They’re usually grouped in opposing pairs such as the biceps on the front of your arm and the triceps at the back.
It’s your skeletal muscles that tend to be sore after exercise and which are prone to injury through trauma or overuse.
Normal muscle soreness
To increase your muscle strength, you need to stress your muscle a little beyond its normal, everyday capacity. That will usually lead to a mild ‘burn’ during and after exercise. It should be short-lived though, easing fairly soon.
Your muscles should normally be tired after a workout, showing that you’ve pushed your limits but not by too much.
If you’re still tired days later, then you’ve probably overdone it. Ongoing tiredness may be a sign that your muscles and energy stores are not being properly replenished. So rest a bit longer and take your workouts down a notch.
Symptoms of muscle strains
A pulled or strained muscle happens when it’s been overstretched or torn through overuse or injury.
Strains can happen to any muscle but are most likely in your lower back, neck, shoulder and hamstring.
If you’ve strained a muscle, you may notice:
- Limited movement in that area
Treatment for mild strains usually involves rest, heat, ice and anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen.
More severe strains or tears cause more intense symptoms. You should seek medical treatment and can expect a longer recovery guided by your physiotherapist.
Types of muscle injuries
Your muscles power your body through everyday life and bursts of exercise. Muscle injuries arise from either overuse or trauma.
These injuries happen gradually if your muscles don’t get time to heal before they’re put to work again.
You’re at risk of an overuse injury if:
- You’re doing too much – training too hard, or for too long, or too frequently can strain your muscles.
- You’re using bad technique – poor form during strength training can overload certain muscles and lead to an overuse injury.
Overuse injuries can happen to anyone but they’re more likely as you get older or if you have certain underlying medical conditions. They can also happen if you’re new to exercise or if you’re taking up a new form of it.
You can prevent most overuse injuries by:
- Using the right technique and equipment (don’t run in old trainers, for example – you need a new pair every 6 months or so if you run regularly).
- Warm up and cool down properly
- Spread exercise out over the week rather than doing it all it one punishing session
- Start slowly and build up the intensity or duration of exercise by no more than 10% each week as you get fitter and stronger
- Spending time on strength training for your major muscle groups (abs, arms and legs) at least twice a week
- Vary your exercise with cross-training where you incorporate a range of activities like walking, cycling and swimming to use different muscle groups.
These happen suddenly, for example during a collision on the field or a bad landing in gymnastics or dance.
The impact causes immediate trauma, straining or spraining your muscle.
Traumatic muscle injuries aren’t only related to sports and exercise activities. They can also happen for the most silly, irritating reasons, like twisting your ankle on the kerb.
How The Brisbane Spine Clinic can help
We want you to feel strong and comfortable in your body. If you’re concerned about a sore muscle, please come to see us for an assessment.
We can advise you on how to exercise safely and we can identify and treat any injury you may have sustained, helping to prevent any further damage and promoting your recovery.
Book your appointment today.
All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion.