Person in workout clothes massages their backPhoto: Maridav (Shutterstock)

It’s normal to feel sore after your first day of a new workout, but you may have heard horror stories from people who ended up in the hospital after self-destructing from a super intense workout. Chances are your pain is normal, but here’s how to know.

How normal pain feels

DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness, usually occurs the day after a hard workout. The harder it is, the longer it takes, and often peaks 48 to 72 hours after your workout. A mild case will leave you feeling slightly sore for a day or two. A rougher one may make you wince as you walk down the stairs for most of a week.

The feeling can range from a dull ache to a burning pain. Your sore muscles will feel most uncomfortable, especially if you’ve sat still for a while. You might wake up thinking, oh god, everything hurts, but if you get up and walk around you will likely feel a little better.

If you hit the gym again during this time – what you should! – you will find that you can still do the same exercises, but you may find that the pain makes it harder to do them with as much weight or as many repetitions as possible the first time around.

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As a bonus, a bout of pain will keep you from getting sore next time. It is called the “delayed combat effect” and you can take advantage of it by showing up for your next workout even if you are not feeling completely normal again. DOMS only occurs after new or extremely intensive training sessions. So if your body is used to a certain exercise, you are not going to get a serious case of DOMS anytime soon.

What if it’s rhabdomyolysis?

There is an extreme type of sore muscles that can cause serious health complications and it is called rhabdomyolysis, or rhabdo for short. In rhabdo, you have so much damage to your muscles that your body and especially your kidneys cannot handle the resulting metabolic wastes that get into your bloodstream.

That said, it’s not very common. If you’ve just got off a new workout and are feeling sore all over the place, the more likely you have a bad case of DOMS than you have rhabdo. To give you an idea of ​​how rare this study found 29 cases over four years (2010-2014) in one of the New York City hospitals. Since it is only a hospital, there must have been more cases in the city than just 29 in those years; But on the flip side, that’s still a tiny fraction of the people who play sports.

But rhabdo happens. And because it’s more common in absolute beginners who are too tough than seasoned athletes (who probably know when to stop pushing themselves), you may be facing your first bout of extreme pain and not sure if you’re unusual are sore or not.

Who gets rhabdo

Exercise-induced rhabdo, which is rare, is more likely to occur in people who:

  • Are dehydrated.
  • Exercise in extreme heat.
  • Do an extreme intensity or amount (or both) of exercises in one workout.
  • Are new to training and push themselves really hard.
  • Are taking certain medications including ibuprofen or other NSAIDS.

In addition to hard training, rhabdomyolysis can also be a complication of injuries that damage a lot of muscle tissue, as well as some medications or other health problems.

The symptoms to look out for according to CDC, can occur at any time in the days following your workout and includes:

  • Severe muscle pain, weakness, and swelling.
  • Dark urine (“tea or cola colored”).
  • Extreme fatigue.

If you experience these symptoms, see a doctor right away, even if it means going to the emergency room or the emergency room.

Once there, a blood test can confirm that you have rhabdo and you can get the care you need to make sure you don’t have kidney damage or other serious problems. The CDC says to make sure you get tests for creatine kinase or creatine phosphokinase, ideally repeated over hours or days.

What to do if you are just sore

Not only did we make sure you didn’t skip your next workout, but we did too a few tips for you. The bad news is that nothing will make DOMS go away. you have to rest. And to recover, you need sleep, food and time.

But while you’re waiting, a few things can help you feel better. Exercise helps, so go for a walk or consider light cardio exercise. Massage can feel good, so get someone to massage you or do a self-massage with one Foam roller or a Lacrosse ball.

Some people find stretching helps, but be careful not to stretch too much as this can further damage your muscles. I like to take a hot bath or use a heating pad. (Driving in a heated seat car is a joy after a workout that stresses your back and hamstrings.)

And, as always, seek medical help for anything that feels particularly worrying. An article on the internet can’t tell you if you are badly injured or just a little sore, but an actual doctor can.