Muscle Pain & Bruising After Workouts

Knee injury - woman in pain after sport

Muscle soreness and bruising are extremely common side effects of exercise. While both conditions can cause discomfort, they are not usually serious and tend to heal themselves without the need for treatment. However, there are certain things you can do to relieve the symptoms and prevent soreness and bruising from occurring in the first place.

Muscle Soreness

This condition is also called delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. It usually arises 24 to 48 hours after a workout and can range from mild to very painful. The most common cause of DOMS is overworking your muscles, according to the Sports Fitness Advisor website. It’s not clear why this causes soreness, but placing pressure on your muscles while they are extended -- for example, when running downhill -- is considered to be a risk factor. Temporary damage to your muscle cells is another possible cause of DOMS. When you exercise, the working muscles sustain tiny tears, which your body repairs by pumping extra blood into the affected muscles, says trainer and nutrition expert Damien Mase on the Muscle and Strength website. This eventually results in new tissue growth and bigger muscles, but in the short term these tears and the healing process may cause pain.

Treatment for Muscle Soreness

Regardless of the cause, DOMS usually disappears without treatment after a few days. But applying ice to the affected area can reduce swelling and, therefore, help ease pain and speed up the healing process. For the first three days after the muscle injury occurs, Medical News Today recommends applying ice for 20 minutes every four to six hours. After three days, follow the same application process, but change to heat therapy, using a hot-water bottle or warm shower to relax your stressed muscles.

Muscle Bruising

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, muscle bruising -- also known as contusions -- is one of the most common injuries in athletes who play contact sports. The bruises usually occur due to a direct blow, such as a tackle or fall, which damages the muscle fibers and causes bleeding within the muscle. The most obvious symptom is pain and tenderness around the injured muscle, and the skin may turn a bluish color. You may also experience swelling around the affected area and reduced mobility. Most muscle bruises heal without treatment, but in some cases they can be serious and result in a torn muscle or fractured bone. If your symptoms persist, see your doctor for a full diagnosis.

Treatment for Muscle Bruising

For the first 24 to 48 hours after the injury, follow the RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) treatment method to reduce swelling and control intra-muscular bleeding, recommends the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medications may also help. During this period, keep the injured muscle in a gentle stretch position to prevent it from becoming stiff. After a few days, you can usually start using heat therapy and gradually return to normal activity. However, if your injury is serious, it may be several weeks before you can start exercising at your pre-injury intensity. In this case, your doctor will advise you on the best rehabilitation process for your condition.