Anyone who has started an exercise program has experienced it – the next day – stiffness, pain, grimaces at the thought of getting up after sitting down, the slow shuffle.
The question is, what is the typical pain and what is the sign of an injury.
When stressed by doing something drastically different, the body experiences muscle trauma, not trauma like doing 10 rounds with Mike Tyson, but microscopic damage to the muscles. Damage is a negative word, and in most cases it is a healthy process of rebuilding the body and, like the six million dollar man, getting stronger and faster.
Delayed onset muscle pain (DOMS) is normal and perfectly acceptable, but pain in the buttocks.
The fibers of the muscle belly are damaged by the process of contraction and the cells inundated with lactic acid. It sounds terrible, but this is how the body initiates the rebuilding process. When you start an exercise program, this is normal because the body gets used to it.
How to prevent DOMS and how to mitigate them? Avoid doing too much, too quickly, with too little ability. For example, if you are starting a running program, that means doing a six week walk-jog program, not a continuous run. If this is the first time you hit the gym since Anne Murray was on the charts, don’t attempt a full workout. A light warm-up on the treadmill would be 10 minutes of walking followed by 15 minutes of exercise and, most importantly, 15 minutes of stretching.
DOMS usually resolves within 72 hours. Treat it by drinking as much water as possible, walking until it is warm, followed by light stretching and anti-inflammatory medication.
DOMS will become less of a problem if you stay in your new routing and allow time for the body to adjust. Don’t use it as an excuse to stop exercising.
A common painful area is the gluteus maximus (your buttocks) which may be mistaken for lower back damage or sciatica. If the pain persists after 72 hours and there is numbness or tingling in the legs, then you do not have DOMS – you have injured yourself. Call your GP or physiotherapist and make an appointment for a diagnosis.
In the meantime, continue to treat the pain with fluids, ice packs, stretching, and pain reliever. One tool that I highly recommend is a yoga strap. For those who don’t have a flexible body, this is a great way to get help getting a deeper stretch.
If you’re old enough that you wanted a Trans-Am in high school, take a gradual approach to exercise – the first month should be very easy and build up slowly, so you don’t explode a piston. Burning rubber from the start line won’t get you two tickets to heaven, just a highway to hell.
Ron Cain is a personal trainer with Sooke Mobile Personal Training. Email him at email@example.com.