January is a busy time for gyms. Many people resolve to eat right and work out more in the new year. But did you know that 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February?
There are a few reasons for the change of heart, but a major factor in abandoning the workout is pain. You often experience a natural soreness that comes from starting a new exercise program, changing your routine, or increasing the length or intensity of your workout. The technical term is delayed-onset muscle soreness or DOMS.
When you work your muscles harder than usual or even in a different way, it can cause minor damage to the muscle fibers, resulting in muscle soreness or stiffness. This is common and can develop in anyone including elite athletes, so you shouldn’t let it discourage you. Normally, the stiffness will decrease as your muscles become used to the new demands you’re placing on them. It’s all part of an adaptation process that leads to greater stamina and strength as the muscles recover and build.
Muscle soreness typically lasts between three and five days. The pain—which can range from mild to severe—usually occurs one or two days after the exercise. Generally, you can ease symptoms with rest, ice packs, or massage. Keeping track of your water and protein intake is also important.
DOMS generally doesn’t require medical intervention, so keep an eye for signs of something more severe like unbearable pain, heavy swelling, or dark urine.
During your workout, you might experience a few different types of muscle strains or sprains. If the pain is sharp and sudden, you should stop immediately and try gentle stretching. If the pain persists, apply ice for 20 minutes several times a day. A dull ache or cramp at the start of your workout is common, so keep going to see if it fades. After five minutes, rest that specific joint or muscle until you can exercise without pain. If you feel an overwhelming ache late in the workout, reduce the intensity or just stop altogether. Your body is telling you it’s time to relax.
If home treatment isn’t working, or you’re feeling chronic pain in your muscles, talk to your doctor about pain management options. Non-narcotic muscle relaxers and pain medicines can help with inflammation and stiffness. You can also work with a physical therapist to learn range-of-motion and strengthening exercises to make your muscles more stable.
Corticosteroid injections are also an option and can be repeated every three months in severe cases. Since there are important structures such as nerves and blood vessels nearby, it’s important to have the procedure performed by a Fellowship Trained Interventional Pain Doctor.
The best way to prevent either DOMS or more serious workout pain is to ease into a new exercise program to allow your muscles to adapt to the movements. Getting the level of exercise just right might take a bit of trial and error, but it’s certainly worth the effort. There are plenty of benefits that make working out a resolution worth keeping.