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Sore Muscles, Why and How to Not

By Albus Du


My back hurts right now. As I am sitting here typing this, my back is in pain. Why? Because I’ve just spent eight days paddling and portaging across northern Minnesota, that is, I’ve been sitting in a canoe with no lumbar support for eight hours a day, then getting out and carrying a hundred-pound pack for up to a mile and a half. As you can imagine, that was hell on my back. In fact, any kind of physical activity that feels great the day before can become a burning sensation in the affected muscle groups only made known when you awake from your slumber the day after. So, what causes soreness post-workout, and how can we prevent and treat it?


Post-workout muscle soreness is often attributed to the buildup of lactic acid in your body, but that is not true. The buildup of lactic acid is responsible for the grinding, tired feeling during your workout. Muscle soreness the next day is caused by small tears in your muscle fibers called DOMS. Your muscles are not used to the amount and type of activity you are experiencing, so they are ever so slightly damaged. This is also why DOMS is more common when you change up your routine. This slight damage to your muscles is a good thing, as your muscles will grow back stronger than before.

So, what can you do to prevent and treat this? First and foremost, take it easy. Soreness means your exercise is working, but you don’t want to be so sore you can’t get up the next day, so take it easy. Consider doing different activities that work different muscle groups on consecutive days. For example, you can try going on a bike trip with Natural Highways on one day, then going swimming the next to let your legs rest a bit. Finally, it’s prudent to use hot and cold compresses on sore areas the day of, or the day after your physical activity.


Exercise is very rewarding, but it can suck the day after, especially if you worked a bit too hard. The best way to mitigate that is to slow down, and plan your activities accordingly.

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