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Exercise aches and pains

Causes and treatments for sore muscles and joint pain
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

You work hard all week, so when the weekend finally rolls around you want to play just as hard. There's nothing like a game of football in the park, a long bike ride or an intense work out at the gym to reinvigorate you.

Weekend warriors be warned: Saturday and Sunday exercise can lead to soreness on Monday.

woman rubbing shoulder



What's causing my sore muscles?

It's normal to have sore muscles after you work out or play sport, especially if:

  • You did an activity you're not used to (like running a marathon when you normally jog just a few miles)
  • You suddenly upped your exercise intensity level or increased the length of your workout
  • You did eccentric exercises, in which you lengthened instead of shortened your muscle (like walking downhill or extending your arm during a bicep curl)

"You get sore muscles through doing unfamiliar exercise or increasing the intensity of your exercise," says Lisa Kerry, spokesperson for the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Sports Medicine. "You get tiny tears in the fibre of the muscle, something which is called delayed onset muscle soreness."

Lisa says: "It's more common on loaded exercises, when you use weights or strength training, for example through doing lots of squats."

You generally feel it between 24 and 48 hours after exercise.

What's causing my joint pain?

Joint pain can have many causes, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout. Pain, inflammation and stiffness can affect any joint at any age.

With osteoarthritis, your joints feel sore, stiff and achy. This degenerative condition becomes more common as you get older. The cartilage that normally cushions the joints wears away, leaving the joints inflamed and painful.

Around one million people see their GP about osteoarthritis and the NHS in England and Wales performs around 160,000 hip and knee replacement operations every year.

"If you have swelling or an uncomfortable joint it could be an issue of injury or degenerative condition like osteoarthritis, says Lisa. "It might indicate the joint is being worn down."

Joint pain can also be caused by overuse or injury, for example, tennis elbow or a knee injury caused by a ligament problem.

Treating and preventing sore muscles

So what's the cure? Well according to Lisa it's a simple one: "The best treatment is to repeat the exercise. There's nothing wrong with feeling soreness in a muscle. It's a sign that it will get stronger next time you do that exercise."

That said, "ice, heat and stretching can all be used to help ease sore muscles".

Lisa says: "If you are an elite athlete you are more likely to have an ice bath".

She adds: "If you have a warm bath, the compression of the water on your body is likely to help ease the soreness, as well."

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