Answered by Ingrid Ducmanis on Monday, June 1, 2009
"Typically, muscle soreness [after exercise] is caused by minor damage in the muscle," explains Allen Goldfarb, Ph.D., professor of exercise and sports science at the University of North Carolina. The symptoms of damage (i.e., soreness) peak 12 to 48 hours postexercise, and some easy activity such as jogging, cycling, or aerobics at a low intensity will increase blood flow to the muscle and help with the repair process. Goldfarb recommends that those with sore muscles "concentrate on concentric activities, which cause a shortening of the muscles followed by a contraction. All of the above are good examples." This type of light exercise, along with some stretching, will temporarily alleviate the symptoms, says Malachy McHugh, Ph.D., research coordinator at Lenox Hill Hospital's Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma in New York City, but he warns that the soreness will return within an hour or two. As for taking precautionary measures, "a good warm-up before exercise will definitely limit muscle damage and result in reduced symptoms on the following days," says McHugh. Stretching a lot after the workout, on the other hand, "will do nothing to limit subsequent symptoms, but people with better flexibility [in general] will experience less soreness."