Sore Muscles: Definition & Explanations

Muskelkater: Definition & Erklärungen

You have decided to pursue a healthier lifestyle and have now decided to exercise more often? The first workout goes great and you're really proud of yourself, but this joy can often be short-lived when the next morning you feel severe pain in your muscles and can hardly move.

In this article you will learn everything you need to know about sore muscles. We will inform you about what sore muscles actually are, how they come about and what options there are to prevent and treat sore muscles. So nothing stands in the way of your next workout.

the essentials in brief

  • Small tears in the individual muscle fibers are described as sore muscles, which can occur as a result of an extraordinary load on the respective muscle parts.
  • A sore muscle is usually harmless and goes away on its own after a few days. You should only seek medical advice if the pain lasts particularly long or is particularly severe.
  • Basically, there is unfortunately no cure for sore muscles. The best healing is healing, because the body needs time to regenerate.

Glossary entry: The term sore muscles explained in detail

In order to provide you with all-round information on the subject of sore muscles, we have collected and answered the most important and most frequently asked questions for you. This gives you a quick overview of the topic and you are well informed when you go to the next training session.

What is sore muscles?

Sore muscles are pains that are usually harmless and start in the muscles, such as the thigh and calf muscles. The most common cause of muscle soreness is usually overuse of the muscles during sports or other physical activities (1).

woman in gym

In addition to a balanced diet, physical activity is also essential for a healthy lifestyle. (Image source: Pixabay/ pexels)

The pain typically does not come on immediately. The sore muscles only become noticeable a few hours after physical exertion. Because of the pain, the affected muscles are more difficult to move, and this condition can last for a few days. As a rule, the sore muscles disappear after ten days at the latest without medical intervention.

What Causes Muscle Soreness?

In the past, the prevailing theory was that sore muscles were caused by acidification, namely excess lactate in the muscles. Therefore, attempts have been made to reduce muscle soreness through an adapted diet. However, this hypothesis of hyperacidity could be refuted. The lactate is basically broken down again after 20 minutes, while the sore muscles only appear after a few hours of exertion.

Today's scientists largely agree that muscle soreness is caused by micro-tears in the muscle tissue. The overload during the training sessions leads to small injuries in the muscles. The deceleration movements during training are particularly to blame for these minor injuries and tears.

These lead to small inflammations in the muscle tissue. As a result, the inflammation causes the muscle to swell slightly due to the ingress of water. This expansion is the main cause of the well-known pain that occurs after strenuous exercise. After a certain regeneration phase, the pain subsides and the injuries can heal (2.3">.

How can sore muscles be prevented?

Unfortunately, you can't completely avoid muscle soreness if you want to train your muscles. Sore muscles are part of getting stronger and healthier. However, there are some things one can do to reduce the pain. Therefore, the following aspects should be considered before and after training (4.5">:

  • Warm up: Various studies show that warming up the muscles before training can be better than just stretching. The warm-up activates the muscle and increases blood flow in the muscles. As part of the warm-up, you should do the easier version of the specific exercises. This includes slow jogging or cycling, jumping rope or even lifting light weights.
  • Drink water: Water is essential for the human body and fulfills important tasks. The water helps the body regulate body temperature, loosens joints and transports nutrients to energize different parts of the body. Without a sufficient amount of water, the body cannot achieve the desired maximum performance. In addition to sore muscles, not drinking enough water before a workout can lead to muscle cramps, fatigue, dizziness, or more serious symptoms, among other things.
  • Rest Time: Wait at least 48 hours before training the same muscle groups in the same way (at the same intensity or duration). Limiting or lightening the training of the same muscles, on the other hand, can actually help. For example, if you've been training to run, a light walk or bike ride over the next few days can be helpful. Complete rest and immobilization should always be avoided.
  • Using Proper Technique: Performing exercises incorrectly can be responsible for muscle soreness. Therefore, you should always make sure that the exercises are carried out correctly during training. Using the right technique can protect you from muscle strain and injury. If you belong to a health club or gym, then whenever possible, seek out a trainer or trainer and ask for help if you are unsure. These trainers can teach you the correct technique and also show you how to use the various training machines and equipment in the gym correctly.
  • Stretching: It's especially important to stretch after a workout. This should use as many muscles as possible. The most important time to stretch is after your workout. After physical exertion, the stretching exercises have the greatest effect and help the body to regenerate.
  • Know your limits: Although you can always try to push yourself, you should always think about taking it easy on your body. You should not overdo it when it comes to training and always consider the physical risks. Therefore, gradual training progress is crucial for long-term success. Over time, you can increase the weight you lift or the length of time you exercise. If you overdo it with the weight or the amount of time, then it can lead to serious injuries.

What helps against existing sore muscles?

Although one would love to have a miracle cure for severe muscle soreness that would heal the unpleasant pain, it must unfortunately be said that there is no such thing as a miracle cure.

The best way to deal with sore muscles is to heal. The body needs rest and time to regenerate.

Nevertheless, there are certain measures that can help the body to regenerate and that give you a calming feeling. You should generally refrain from massages, as they are not always suitable and because you should protect the injured muscles and not knead them hard.

The following table explains three different measures that have a positive effect on the healing process of the muscles (6.7">:

measure Explanation
Relaxing bubble bath Heat is basically considered to be a known measure giving various injuries in the body. Therefore, heat therapies can also be beneficial for sore muscles. The heat gets the blood moving, which is not only beneficial for circulation, but can also help relax tight muscles, thereby relieving pain.
sauna Like the warm full bath, a sauna can also have a positive effect on the muscles according to the warm properties. The sauna has a warming and relaxing effect on muscle groups. Because of the hot air in the sauna room, the muscles can relax, which can ease the pain a little.
Light workout Although you should take it easy on the muscles affected by sore muscles and not overwork them, this is no reason to give up training altogether. The sore muscles cannot be eliminated by training again, but slight movements can do the muscles good. The rule here is that the muscles should not be used with the same intensity and type of training. If you got the sore muscles, for example, from lifting heavy weights, you should avoid this type of training and not put heavy strain on the aching muscle groups again. On the other hand, light cycling or easy running can relax the muscles and counteract muscle soreness.

Basically, if you have sore muscles, you should always try to relax the body as much as possible and not irritate the muscles too much.

When should you see a doctor for sore muscles?

Sore muscles are usually harmless and will go away on their own after a few days. In about ten days, the pain should have subsided completely and the muscles should have healed again.

doctor accessories

If the sore muscles have not subsided after a few days, it is advisable to seek the opinion of a doctor. (Image source: Negative Space/ pexels)

However, in some cases it may be advisable to seek medical help.

If the pain persists, you should see a doctor.

If you find that the pain does not subside and is still there after ten days, then you should see a doctor. Because sometimes it can also be that the pain is a sign of an existing muscle hardening or strain (8).

In other cases of long-lasting pain, the muscle pain may also be an accompanying symptom of another serious disorder of the muscles, nervous system, skeleton or other organs.


The background for sore muscles is usually an unusual or particularly long strain on one or more muscle groups. This stress can occur in the course of everyday activities or a sporting activity. As a rule, the sore muscles are harmless and only last for a few days and then disappear by themselves without medical intervention.

It is not recommended to continue training with sore muscles because the body needs time to regenerate. Instead, you can move around easily and warm your body with a warm bath or sauna.

However, if you still feel pain after ten days, you should consult a doctor. It could also be a strain or another injury or illness.


  1. Muscle cramp Dtsch Ärzteebl 2002; 99(6): A-372 / B-297 / C-280 Boening, Dieter
  2. Owens DJ et al.; Exercise-induced Muscle Damage: What Is It, What Causes It and What Are the Nutritional Solutions? Eur J Sport Sci. 2019; 19(1):71-85
  3. What is sore muscles? A painful, somatic learning process? P Posner, December 1998
  4. Information: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
  5. Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise Robert D Herbert Marcos de Noronha Steven J Kamper
  6. For the therapy of sore muscles, myalgia, cramps and myotonia Towards a Therapy for Muscle Soreness, Myalgia, Cramps and Myotonia
  7. Delayed onset muscle soreness : treatment strategies and performance factors
  8. Relieve and prevent muscle soreness After a strenuous workout, sore muscles are often not long in coming. How muscle pain develops and what helps against the symptoms
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