While running can make us a great deal healthier, that doesn’t meant it always feels great. Especially when we’re increasing mileage or starting out, sore muscles from running are common and often a good thing!
The breakdown of muscle whether running or strength training is what tells the body build it back stronger.
But to what extent is sore muscles from running normal? And why do your muscles feel sore in the first place?
In this article, we’ll be answering these questions as well as looking in detail at what you can do to prevent sore muscles from running in the first place.
Should You Be Sore After Running?
Of course, you shouldn’t be so sore you can’t move. That means you went too far beyond your current physical limits. But a little sore…pretty common.
You’re asking your body to do something new whether that means you’re trying to get through your first Couch to 5K with lots of walking or your first 26.2.
It’s not a about distance or pace. It’s about the challenge to your body, which is exactly why you’re running!
There is a difference between being sore…super sore…and injured!
- Try following the 10% rule for increasing mileage
- Remember 80% of your week should be easy running
- Don’t forget that your body needs FUEL to recover, which means carbs, protein and fats
- If you can’t walk down the stairs, that’s not a day to push through with a run
- Any type of running foot pain needs to be addressed as it will take the brunt of the force of each step
How to Know If Muscle Soreness Has Gone Too Far?
Some level of soreness is normal, but at other times it might have gone too far. Physical therapist Amie Ramczk, MPT, OCS is here to tell us exactly how to figure that out and what to do about it.
“I tell people it becomes a concern when you can tell your mechanics are off even with a slow easy run after your 1–2-mile warm-up”, she says.
“You should feel like your easy run helped with the soreness, but if you feel it made you worse you need to step back. A lot of time patients have muscle soreness, but are able to do a slow run and can tell things are loosening up as they go,” she explains.
Understanding what to do about this is incredibly important. “Also, it should become a concern when daily things are not improving after a few days/week – not being able to go downstairs is a big one,” Amie says.
“Listen to your body, it is ok if you need a couple of extra rest days – do active recovery by going for a walk, easy bike, or a swim. Make sure you drink a lot of water/electrolytes, eat more protein, work on mobility activities, and if you are a person who finds a roller helpful use that. Your body recovers when you sleep, so make sure you are getting plenty,” she advises.
Why Do Your Muscles Feel Sore After Running?
There are a few factors that might be the reason why you’re feeling sore in your muscles after running.
Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
1. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
Aching and sore muscles after a run, also known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), are caused by micro-tears in your muscles that develop when you put them through added stress.
Typically, you’ll feel sore 24 to 48 hours after a run, which is how long it takes for your body to develop inflammation in response to the damage from the micro-tears. This, in turn, is what leads to muscle soreness.
Your muscles get stronger over time when these micro-tears repair themselves with the help of nutrition and rest.
This is a great chart from Elite Physical Therapy on who to know if it’s an injury or just sore muscles.
2. Poor Running Form
Having a poor running form can lead to sore muscles from running as well.
If you are suffering from discomfort in your shoulders, back, arms, or neck when running, it is possible that you’re tensing up while running. Super common and easy to fix with attention.
Aches and pains might be caused by minor issues with your neck alignment, having a poor chest and shoulder posture, overstriding or your foot rolling in due to weak hips.
If you suspect that your muscle soreness is a result of poor running form, it needs to be corrected to avoid injuries and other issues in the long run.
But don’t worry, correcting your running form isn’t difficult or even time-consuming. In fact, it only takes 10 minutes a week to get the correct running form!
👉Check out my guided Running Form for Beginners Program >>
3. Inadequate Stretching After a Run
Stretching after a run helps with flexibility and mobility, as well as preventing tightness after running. It can also aid in the removal of lactic acid.
Lactic acid is produced when you exert yourself during a workout and experience the burning sensation in your legs.
If this stays in your muscles overnight, you’ll be stiff and sore upon waking, causing your muscles will feel very tight.
This is why it’s incredibly important to properly do some post-run stretches as it’ll aid in the recovery process. These can be done immediately post run or I prefer to make them part of a nightly routine.That way you hit all the tight areas from sitting too.
4. Wearing Incorrect Footwear
Your ability to run correctly is affected not just by your form, but also by the footwear you choose.
Shoes that are worn out and old may be unable to give the necessary support for your muscles and joints. Even new shoes might be uncomfortable if they don’t fit properly.
It’s also important to pay attention to your feet and wear shoes that work for it, not against it. For example, if you have flat feet, make sure to buy shoes that are meant to provide you with the right support and are designed for flat feet in particular.
- When to Replace Your Running Shoes >>
- How to Know if Running Shoes Fit Properly >>
- How to Lace Running Shoes for a Better Fit >>
Running comes with a ton of health benefits, but overtraining will do more harm than good. It can lead to minor aches and pains, or major injuries to your muscles and joints.
If you overtrained, your muscles may be sore for up to a week because they aren’t used to the duration or intensity of what you did which increases the chances of micro-tears.
To avoid muscle soreness due to overtraining, build up your mileage and running intensity slowly by following the 10% rule, where you increase by mileage by no more than 10% each week.
How to Relieve Sore Muscles From Running?
We’ll run through some of the best ways to relieve muscle soreness, but it’s important to know that not all soreness is bad. Your body MUST break down to build back up stronger.
Let’s go through each of the ways you can relieve sore muscles in detail to see why they work and what might be the best choice for you…or how to make them all part of your routine.
1. Take an Epsom Salt Bath
One of my favorite rewards for a long run is a hot Epsom Salt Bath. That’s right, no more ice baths for runners!
Heat is a great way to loosen up tight muscles and of course there’s simply the matter of giving yourself time to do something RELAXING!
Pretty much any epsom salt you find is a great option, but add in some lavender if before bed for extra sleepy time.
2. Wear Compression Tights
I do love my compression tights and possibly talk them up too much.
- Long runs in compression tights can provide extra support
- Hanging out in compression tights after long runs can increase blood flow to increase recovery
- Muscles that are tight or spasming feel better with compression (again increasing blood flow)
- Here’s the best compression pants for running
3. Use Magnesium Lotion
This is my favorite sneaky tool because it’s like an Epsom salt bath in a bottle! We don’t always have time for that long lingering wonderful bath, so this is a way to get magnesium on those muscles.
The benefits of magnesium for athletes are what make the bath and lotion so great:
- reduces muscle cramps
- helps with muscle fatigue
- can improve mood and fat loss if you’re low
4. Apply CBD Cream and Oil
I’ve shared this before, but post knee surgery I started using CBD oil and my recovery speed up tenfold. It was truly the thing that got me running again.
Since then, I’ve also become a fan of using CBD Cream for aches in specific areas.
- Oil is great at night to help with whole body inflammation
- Oil is great at night to improve sleep (see number 9)
- Cream is perfect for a localized ache
- Bonus CBD bath bombs will help you sleep like a dream
Find out all the benefits of CBD Oil for athletes and how to use it.
5. Take Some Turmeric
If you need to take a pain reliever, then you’ve gone from soreness to something more and that’s not ok. You should not take pain relievers before running as it can cause liver damage and allows you to push your body beyond it’s limits.
Turmeric is a fantastic anti-inflammatory.
Just don’t take it immediately after a workout, you want that short term inflammation to occur for the build up we’ve discussed.
As I’ve said 122 times…QUALITY matters. Terry’s Naturally is what I’ve relied on and even found to help my dad with his Arthritis.
6. Do Light Stretching
Not everything we do needs to be hard core, high intensity or sweat breaking.
Gentle muscle stretching for up to 30 seconds helps align collagen fibers during healing, which speeds up recovery.
Prior to going for a run, it’s especially important to dynamically stretch the leg muscles and joints, such as those in your calves, hamstrings, and knees, to avoid injury and sore muscles.
Afterwards, restorative yoga for runners or light stretching are a great way to get some movement in the legs which helps get blood flowing and that can help remove the waste build up causing soreness.
- Recovery is about helping the body to reset
- You need SLOW activities to focus on good breathing
- You need SLOW activities to lower cortisol (your total body stress)
- Restorative yoga helps to open up tight hips
- Light stretching is also about opening up range of motion, not about building extensive flexibility
7. Do Some Light Activity
Much like the stretching, an easy walk or even easy bike ride is what we like to call active recovery.
Sometimes we need a day to simply sit, but active recovery is often what’s called for when we’re embarking on a new routine. It helps to keep the body from getting stiff and the simply slow easy movements, get the blood flowing which improves recovery and our mood.
Yup, our mood.
We talk about running being mental, but it turns out that your recovery is too!
You have to work on stress to optimize recovery and getting outside for some Vitamin D is hugely helpful in that recovery process as well.
8. Concentrate on Hydration + Electrolytes
Muscles that are dehydrated often feel more fatigued and sore.
This is one of those it’s too simple to work suggestions that so often get overlooked…and then later my runners say “oh my gosh, electrolytes helped me so much!”
- Step 1 just grab a water bottle and start sipping all day long
- Step 2 throw in some electrolyte powder
- Electrolytes aren’t just about replacing the sodium lost during sweat
- Calcium potassium, magnesium and chloride are part of the mix as well to help maintain fluid balance and muscle contractions
👉Checkout the best electrolyte tablets to carry with you on long runs.
9. Get More Rest and Sleep
No one every wants to hear this suggestion, but the BEST recovery tool that we all have is sleep.
In fact, multiple studies have shown us that an increase in sleep helps to improve performance. AND we know that one of the things elite runners rely on to train the way they do is a long night of sleep and a daily nap.
- Add a minute of sleep for every mile you’re running
- Get in to a sleep routine so that you start making it a priority
- Take weekend need naps after long runs
Sleep is when your body produces growth hormone which stimulates muscle growth and repair.
10. Massage with a Foam Roller
Foam rolling is a great way to ease sore muscles from running, and there’s research that backs it up too! In fact, massaging a sore muscle, in general, can alleviate the effects of DOMS by up to 30%.
Massage improves blood flow, which helps to reduce muscle swelling. Slowly move the roller over the affected area until you feel relief.
To relieve DOMS in the calves, for example, sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. With your right foot on the floor, place the roller beneath your left calf.
With your hands, lift your hips off the floor and roll all the way from your ankle to just below your knee. Repeat on the other calf.
Work on each of the major muscle groups, such as your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, and hips, in shorter sessions of 1–2 minutes for best results.
While foam rolling, keep in mind that rolling across tendons, bones, and sore areas might aggravate the situation, not alleviate it. If you have a painful spot, work around it rather than on it.
Avoid the ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality. While rolling may be moderately unpleasant at times, it should never be extremely painful.
👉Checkout this complete foam rolling guide for runners for a video demonstration >>
11. Pay Attention to Nutrition
Nutrition may seem like a less obvious way to deal with muscle soreness, but refueling is always the first step in the recovery process.
Following a run, particularly a long one, you’ll want to replenish glycogen stores and protein to stop any muscle breakdown. Within the hours following a workout, muscles are most sensitive to rebuilding glycogen reserves in the body, which give us the energy we need during runs.
If you eat foods shortly following your run, you can help decrease muscle stiffness and pain.
Your goal should be eating something that’s rich in carbohydrates and has some added protein, such as a green smoothie or scrambled eggs with toast. Protein is also important because it is an essential nutrient for muscle repair and recovery.
Your body won’t be able to begin the process of muscle healing and repair if you don’t consume enough calories. Excessive calorie restriction over time might result in more severe injuries such as stress fractures.
👉Checkout these great post run recovery meals >>
What If My Muscle Soreness Doesn’t Go Away?
If you’ve tried these 11 techniques but are still experiencing pain and discomfort, you might have a running injury.
If you suspect that a running injury is what’s causing you to increase pain in your muscles, I recommend heading to your doctor immediately to get diagnosed.
Some of the most common running injuries include IT band syndrome (pain outside the knee), Achilles tendonitis (pain at the back of the heel), plantar fasciitis (sharp pain in the arch of the foot), and shin splints (sharp pain in the shins).
Depending on which one you’re suffering from, it’s important to seek medical advice and start the treatment process.
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Love these tips, Amanda – there are a few things on here that I haven’t tried before that I definitely want to try! I agree that rest and hydration are so critical for recovery!