Popularly we call stiffness to that particular pain that appears in the muscles after exercising, in fact, that name comes from the characteristic sensation it produces, similar to those of the needles digging into the muscle.
On a medical level, this pain is known as DMAT, the acronym for late-onset muscle pain, and can appear on the same day or the next to exercise, depending on the exercise and the state of form of the person. In turn, the recovery of the stiffness usually occurs within a period of between one and five days. Do you want to know how to recover faster from stiffness? If it is possible to prevent them from appearing? In the following article we are going to give you the answers.
What are stiffness?
There are many myths and theories, more or less bizarre, about the appearance, origin and cause of stiffness. Perhaps one of the most widespread is that stiffness is the result of lactic acid crystallization. Lactic acid is a substance that is produced when sugar is metabolized, being produced in large quantities during high-intensity anaerobic exercise. The theory that puts it in the focus of the origin of the stiffness says that, after exercising and releasing the acid, when this acid crystallizes it causes the punctures of discomfort. However, the studies that have been done in recent years have denied this with something as basic as that people who suffer from McArdle disease, a pathology that prevents the production of lactic acid, also have stiffness.
What the latest studies indicate is that, in reality, stiffness is nothing more than inflammation of the muscle as a result of micro ruptures caused by physical exercise. When exercising, these small breaks occur and waste is eliminated as a result of metabolic processes. All this leads to inflammation of the muscle and irritation of the fibers causing pain.
In addition, it is also known that stiffness or DMAT are more intense when the muscle does eccentric work, that is, that the insertion and origin of the muscle are separated. As an example, it produces more stiffness to go down a ramp (eccentric) than the flat (concentric) run.
How to Recover Faster from Stiffness
As they can be very annoying there are people who wonder how to recover faster from the stiffness to return to exercise or, simply, to be able to walk and do the things of the day to day without going stiff. The reality is that the best thing you can do to recover from the stiffness is to perform again the same exercises that have caused them but with a lower intensity.
With this method we will achieve that the blood circulation is activated, there is a vasodilation that fills with new blood the muscles where the stiffnesses have appeared and, in this way, the damaged tissues regenerate more quickly. That is why the areas that recover more quickly from the stiffness are those in which more blood usually arrives, while those that do not reach as much amount -such as the ankles- take longer to recover.
Once the exercise is over, there are other methods that we can use to recover faster from the stiffness:
- Massage the area with stiffness: so that we will stimulate blood circulation in the part affected by the microbreaks.
- Do cryotherapy: you can place your lower train, or the affected area, in a hole filled with water with ice.
- Cold-heat contrast therapy: either moving from a cold pool to a hot one or simply alternating cold water with hot water in the shower. This technique, as well as cryotherapy, will cause the blood vessels to constrict and dilate, favoring muscle recovery.
Stretching is important, both before and after exercise to prevent and avoid injuries, however, it has been shown that stretching has no effect, neither to prevent them nor to eliminate stiffness from one day to the next. To know more about some of the myths that circulate about stiffness, in the next section we dismantle some of the most popular.
Myths about how to remove stiffness
As we have already explained, there are different myths about stiffness, urban legends or popular “wisdom” that is taken for granted when in reality they have no scientific basis. Here are some of them:
Water with sugar for stiffness
Sugar water is not useful either to prevent stiffness or to eliminate them once they have appeared. It does not matter if we take it before, after or during exercise, they have no use. However, that does not mean that we should not maintain good hydration when we exercise, not because of the stiffness, but because of health and performance.
Stiffness appears when you haven't exercised in a while
It doesn't matter if you just start training as if you are a great athlete, no one is free from stiffness. If it is true that if you do a sport regularly you will not have them -with that practice- but to which you change the sport you will suffer them because the movements, technique and biomechanics are different. For example, a marathon runner will suffer stiffness the day after playing soccer, because he will use muscle groups that are not required in the continuous course.
What is true is that they will not appear with equal intensity, so it is recommended to start with moderate pace every time we start with a new sports practice.
Stiffness can be avoided
As we have already explained, we cannot avoid them, what we can do is reduce their impact and intensity.
Ibuprofen for stiffness
One of the great health problems today is self-medication. In any house we can find boxes and boxes of medicines that are used without any medical prescription or knowledge. When we talk about exercise and sport, many people see nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, as the great salvation against aches and pains.
So much so that many people take them, even before exercise, to soothe and relieve stiffness. It is true that it is an anti-inflammatory and that it can relieve pain, however, this drug clearly affects the intestinal cells, which causes the absorption of nutrients not to be as it should be and, therefore, the recovery after exercise is incorrect.
Beyond that, ibuprofen intake has also been shown to prevent connective tissue from recovering easily, decreasing hypertrophy and damaging tendons.