Some soreness after a tough workout is an expected part of a fitness routine. However, painful and sore joints after a workout may be a sign of a medical condition such as arthritis or bursitis or an injury to the joint.
Normal Post-Workout Soreness
Delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is a normal part of working out, especially if you are pushing yourself in the gym or trying a new exercise routine. This type of soreness occurs 24 to 48 hours after your workout and then begins to dissipate in the following days according to the National Kidney Foundation. While DOMS is not fully understood, one theory is that the inflammation in the muscles caused by the damage from your workout causes the pain.
This soreness will go away on its own, but you can take steps to reduce the pain. While it may seem counterintuitive, getting out and doing a light workout may help loosen up your muscles and relieve discomfort. Try doing some light yoga or taking a walk. Apply heat to the muscles to soothe the pain.
If you experience sharp or sudden pain during your workout, stop exercising and contact your doctor. You should also seek medical attention if the pain continues and does not improve.
Arthritis and Exercise
Arthritis is a condition that causes pain and stiffness in the joints. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that there are more than 100 types of arthritis, with osteoarthritis being the most common. Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear of the joints and occurs when the cartilage in the joints breaks down. Your risk of developing arthritis increases if you smoke, have joint injuries or are overweight.
If you have arthritis, it may be tempting to skip your workout due to joint pain when lifting weights, especially if you are just starting a new workout program. However, it is important to stay active if you have arthritis. This will help you to maintain the range of motion in your joints, build strength and endurance and help improve balance advises Harvard Health Publishing.
Be sure to do a proper warm-up and cool down to help manage your pain during and after your workout. Wear properly fitted shoes and be sure to increase your exercise intensity slowly. Consider switching to low-intensity exercise options such as walking, swimming or water aerobics. Your doctor may recommend a brace or orthotic device to help support the affected joints.
Arthritis Treatment Options
If you experience joint pain after a workout caused by arthritis, there are several options you can consider to manage your pain. The University of Rochester Medical Center notes that heat therapy can help soothe pain and cold therapy can help reduce swelling.
Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications can help you manage pain and swelling in the joints. Avoid repetitive movements that place additional pressure to your joints.
Your doctor may recommend joint injections to help the symptoms. Cortisone injections work to reduce swelling and hyaluronic acid injections provide lubrication for the joint. While more research is needed to confirm the benefits, taking a glucosamine chondroitin supplement may help support your joints advises Harvard Health Publishing.
If the joint pain after your workout lasts for more than two hours or has a sharp or stabbing quality to it, be sure to stop exercising and contact your doctor.
Sore Joints After a Workout
Joint pain after a workout may be a sign of an injury. A sore knee after a workout, for example, may be caused by an injury such as a dislocated or fractured kneecap, a torn ligament or cartilage, iliotibial band syndrome, a sprain or bursitis, advises the U.S. National Library of Medicine .
Symptoms of a sprain, which caused by damage to the ligaments connecting the joints, or a tendon injury, which affects the tendon that connects the muscle to the bone, may include stiffness, swelling and bruising. A mild sprain will generally heal in seven to 10 days with rest and home treatment, notes the University of Maryland Medical Center.
To treat a mild sprain or tendon injury, ice the joint and keep it elevated to reduce swelling. Wrap the injured area and consider wearing a splint to prevent unnecessary movement. Try an over-the-counter pain medication to manage pain.
If the swelling does not begin to decrease within two days and pain does not lessen within two weeks, seek medical attention. You should also contact a doctor if you experience severe joint pain after exercise. Seek immediate medical attention if the joint appears out of position or you suspect you have a broken bone.
Bursitis is a condition that may appear in several joints including the knee, elbow or hip. In addition to joint pain, symptoms of bursitis may include stiffness and swelling notes Harvard Health Publishing. At-home treatments include cold therapy, over-the-counter pain medication and exercises to stabilize the joint. In some cases, bursitis may become a chronic condition.
Tendonitis, or inflammation of the tendons, is another condition that may cause joint pain after your workout. It is typically caused by overuse from repetitive motions or overloading from increasing your activity level too quickly, advises Harvard Health Publishing. Tendonitis is common in several joints including:
- The rotator cuff in the shoulder is often affected where it is called rotator cuff tendonitis
- The elbow where it is called tennis elbow or golfer's elbow
- The knee where it is called jumper's knee
Read more: How Do I Work Out With Tendinitis?
Symptoms of tendonitis include pain in the affected joint that may extend down the extremity. For example, individuals with tennis elbow may have pain that extends all the way to the wrist. Other symptoms include joint weakness, redness, swelling and heat in the joint.
Tendonitis is treated with rest, ice to reduce swelling and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication to help manage pain. If you continue to workout with tendonitis, the condition may worsen and require additional treatment which may include physical therapy, deep heat treatments for joint mobility and, in rare cases, surgery.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Arthritis, Frequently Asked Questions"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Exercise Is Good, Not Bad, for Arthritis"
- University of Rochester Medical Center: "Myth Buster: The Truth About Arthritis Causes and Treatments"
- University of Maryland Medical Center: "Tendon and Ligament Injuries"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Knee Pain"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Could Your Joint Pain Be Bursitis?"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Tendonitis"
- National Kidney Foundation: "Understanding Muscle Soreness – How Much is Too Much?"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Do Glucosamine and Chondroitin Really Help Arthritis Pain?"