Delayed Onset Postexercise Sore Muscles

Stiffness and muscle soreness are sure to follow most marathon efforts. The duration is typically for one to three days after the race. Contrary to popular belief, the soreness is not caused by lactic acid accumulation but by actual microscopic muscle damage. The severity depends on the specificity of fitness of the individual and the intensity of the effort. For the Boston Marathon, for example, specificity of fitness means not only your ability to handle the distance and pace but also your ability to handle running downhill. The muscle demands in downhill running can be particularly deleterious to the quadriceps muscle group. When a young Boston Marathon neophyte asked Alvaro Mejia, winner of the 1971 race, how to get ready for the Boston Marathon, he replied: “Train yourself to run fast on downhills.” This is perhaps the best preventive medicine that can be prescribed—along with adequate training for the distance and anticipated pace.

While there are no scientifically proven methods to reduce the severity or duration of delayed onset postexercise muscle soreness, there are several anecdotal remedies. For the first 24 hours after the race, cooling the leg muscles intermittently might help. Walking in cold water or rolling the muscles with a frozen plastic water bottle are two ways to cool the muscles. After more than 24 hours have elapsed, warm soaks and hot-tubbing may be beneficial. Gentle massage therapy might also help. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen) or herbal remedies may also be of assistance.

Finally, don’t resume running until the delayed onset postexercise muscle soreness has been resolved.