It's not uncommon when you exercise, say running or heavy lifting, that you feel this sore, burning sensation in the muscle group that you are working on. I remember the time when I went for my first half-marathon race, I felt my legs heavy and sore and my quads and calves were screaming for help after I reached 16 km. Luckily, I had enough will power to beat it and make it to the end. The next few hours I basically walked around without feeling anything in my legs but this heaviness and sore, burning sensation. This muscle soreness felt during an exercise or directly after it is called "acute muscle soreness" and is primarily caused by the decrease in blood flood and oxygen delivery and the consequent accumulation of acid metabolic products like lactic acid. This kind of muscle soreness usually disappears soon after the exercise is finished, and hot therapy, like a good hot bath or warm towels over the painful muscle, can help relieve the pain by stimulating blood flow.
Another kind of muscle soreness related to exercises is called "delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS)" and it usually appears 12 to 24 hours after an exercise and peaks one to three days later. After the half-marathon race held on a Sunday, I didn't feel my legs were mine until the next Thursday. The idea of lactic acid causing DOMS has been proved to be a myth. Currently, it is believed that the micro-tears in muscle tissue during intensive workouts and the local inflammation responses resulting from that is the culprit of DOMS and how to help people recover from DOMS is a hot topic in sports science. Usually, massage helps with DOMS effectively and you can also choose to apply topical analgesics, or take a cold bath to reduce inflammation or a warm bath to ease the pain and stiffness (depending on your personal preference and tolerance), but over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, like ibuprofen, seem not to work well for pain relief for DOMS. Do remember that experiencing DOMS does not mean that you have had a wonderful workout and can expect some muscle growth. It means you have pushed your limits and you should keep going at a reduced intensity to recover from it and later continue improving your performance.
Besides the acute muscle soreness and DOMS, another commonly experienced pain is the involuntary and excruciating muscle spasms. Although the exact causes of muscle spasms still elude scientists, two probable mechanisms have been proposed: one is the electrolyte imbalance caused by excessive sweating and dehydration and the other is related to altered neuromuscular control which leads to increased firing of motor neurons. The combination of these two mechanisms explains why keeping yourself hydrated during a workout, drinking sport drinks, getting a massage after a cramp, and passive stretching all can help relieving muscle cramps.
And if you are like me and spend most of your working hours in front of a computer, you may know too well about the pain and stiffness in your neck and back and feel those muscle knots that give you an "ouch" when you press against them. These knots, AKA myofascial trigger points, can appear anywhere in your muscle that undergoes constant stress and are often related to bad postures and a sedentary lifestyle. Magnetic resonance elastography, a medical imaging technique that enables scientists to see living muscle tissues, shows V-shaped patterns in muscles corresponding to those little nodules felt at the trigger points, indicating these knots may be caused by overactive nerves overstimulating muscle contraction. Overstimulated muscle contraction decreases the blood flow in the muscle and cause it to hurt. Although right now scientists are still scratching their heads on why muscle knots appear and how to fix them effectively, people with such complaints going for massage treatments usually get what they need: relief of the pain and some relaxation. But before you decide to go for a massage or use any home medication to help relieve pain from muscle knots, you'd better first consult a physical therapist to rule out the possibility that your complaints come from other body parts, like your spine. Improving your posture, taking breaks during work, setting your desk and chair at a proper height, sleeping on a good pillow and a suitable bed, and doing a moderately intensive work out regularly can also help with your stiff neck and back.
Now that we understand why we experience muscle pain and soreness in different situations, next time we will discuss more on why massage guns work and how to properly use them for muscle pain relief.
Interested in learning about the products mentioned in today's articles:
1) Massage Gun By Bob & Brad: https://amzn.to/36pMekg