Sore muscles after a workout may indicate that you have exercised your muscles effectively. It is completely normal for your muscles to be sore up to 48 hours after exercise; however, soreness that persists for more than three days may indicate injury to the muscle. A sprain is the medical term used to describe stretching or tearing of the muscles or tendons. Sprains may be caused by either overtraining or direct trauma to the muscles or tendons.
Symptoms and Severity
Symptoms of muscle strain vary according to the severity of the injury. Mild strains involve only a stretching of the muscles or tendons. Moderate strains are classified by partial tearing of the muscles or tendons and severe strains by a complete tear. Symptoms may include soreness of the affected muscle, muscle spasms, swelling, decreased range of motion and weakness. Mild strains typically cause minimal symptoms without any functional deficit. Moderate strains present with decreased strength, mild swelling and alteration of gait. Those with a severe strain exhibit severe pain, an inability to move or bear weight on the affected muscle, and visible swelling.
At Home Care
Mild strains can be treated at home without the help of a physician. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases recommends following the "RICE" protocol for the first 24 to 48 hours following your injury, which stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen may be taken during this time to reduce inflammation and pain as well. Once the acute inflammation has resolved, you can begin stretching and strengthening exercises specific for the injured muscle. These exercises will help restore flexibility and strength of your muscle, as well as decrease stiffness and inflammation. Recovery time varies from person to person, but in general it is safe to return to normal activities when you are free of pain and have full strength and range of motion of the joint or muscle.
When to Contact Your Doctor
Call your doctor if you have pain that is severe; are unable to bear weight on the affected muscle or joint; are unable to move your injured muscle; have numbness or tingling; experience a giving out or buckling of the affected joint when bearing weight; or have redness of the affected body part. Moderate to severe strains necessitate treatment by a medical professional. Never attempt to treat a severe strain on your own, as surgery is required to repair the torn muscle or tendon.
Although strains cannot always be prevented, you can reduce your risk of incurring another strain in the future by warming up and stretching your muscles before exercise; wearing appropriate shoes; replacing shoes when they become worn out; avoiding uneven surfaces when running; wearing appropriate athletic equipment when playing sports; losing weight if overweight; and avoiding exercise if fatigued.