- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Many amateur athletes like that sore feeling. To them, it's a sign of achievement, a sign that they really worked out hard. If they don't have that feeling, they may think they haven't worked hard enough.
"Sometimes I overcompensate because I haven't done enough [exercising] during the rest of the week, and my muscles get sore, but it's a good feeling," says Gabrielle Hecker, 22, who works out at Tenley Sport and Health Club in Northwest.
"There is a difference between good pain and bad pain," Ms. Hecker says.
Dr. Edward Rankin, who often mends sports injuries as chief of orthopedic surgery at Providence Hospital in Northeast, says a little soreness most likely is fine, but pain isn't.
"I probably would stay away from using the term 'good pain,' " Dr. Rankin says. "Pain is generally a signal that something is not right."
Muscle soreness or, in a worse case, muscle pain, is a sign that a muscle is overused. If the soreness is present during exercise, it can mean there is a lactic-acid buildup in the muscle, which isn't dangerous but is uncomfortable.
Lactic acid is a byproduct that can be released in the blood when a muscle is worked close to its maximum. The buildup occurs when the energy the muscle uses at this high level of activity is anaerobic (without oxygen) as opposed to aerobic (with oxygen). Lactic acid is a waste product, like the exhaust of a car, and has no useful purpose.
Once the athlete lowers the level of physical activity, the lactic acid is transported with the blood to the liver, the body's cleanser, where it gets processed.
If soreness appears later, however, maybe a day after exercising, and persists for a couple of days, it most likely is caused by an overstretching, or strain, of a certain muscle.
To paint a clear picture of the effects and possible advantages or disadvantages of mild soreness or muscle strain is impossible, Dr. Rankin says, because pain is subjective. Some people have a high threshold for pain, and some have a very low threshold.
"A lot of people work to the level of mild soreness, and that probably isn't dangerous," he says.
The main things to watch for are swelling and discoloration. If the strain is accompanied by swelling and shades of blue and green, it could be wise to seek medical attention, Dr. Rankin says. Those symptoms may be a sign of a broken bone.

One of the best ways to avoid muscle soreness — not surprisingly — is to gradually increase the exercise load. If you aren't used to running, don't start out by running a five-miler, Dr. Rankin says. Half a mile or a mile would be more appropriate, or maybe a walk with short spurts of slow running.
"But that's not how most people work," he says. "Most people go out there and run five miles."
Contrary to the belief of some exercisers, feeling good and free of muscle soreness after a workout is not a sign that the workout was too easy.
"You will not have two or three days of soreness if [exercising] is done correctly," says Thomas Crooks, a personal trainer at Tenley Sport and Health Club.
Whenever Mr. Crooks gets a new client, he preaches stretching both before and after a workout to help prevent muscle soreness. As with many other fitness professionals, Mr. Crooks knows that all the initial enthusiasm in the world for getting in shape and working out is killed quickly if the participant has too much discomfort or pain.
Mr. Crooks, who has clients ranging in age from 13 to 87, recommends initial moderation in a combination of strength training and cardiovascular activity while doing plenty of stretching.
He recommends stretching for about 10 to 15 minutes before a strenuous workout and for about 20 to 30 minutes afterward.
Certain semiprofessional or professional athletes might need a certain amount of soreness to make progress in their particular sport. Runners of 400-meter and 800-meter races, for example, have to condition their bodies to excel while feeling the burn of lactic acid in their muscles. Bodybuilders who work one muscle group a day should be sore the next day, Mr. Crooks says.
However, he adds, amateur athletes have no reason to apply the "no pain, no gain" motto.
But we all know that hindsight is 20/20. If an athlete overuses his or her muscles and has discomfort, several remedies are available.
Massage is one of them.
Massage therapist Greg Pivarnik says about 30 percent of his clients have sports-related soreness. The other 70 percent use his services for general relaxation. Mr. Pivarnik, a member of the International Massage Association, sees clients in their own homes or at his private practice in Warrenton, Va.
"What massage does is softens and loosens up the soft tissue," he says. "It also increases blood circulation."
Depending on the level of massage and muscle overuse, the client could feel completely rehabilitated after the massage, Mr. Pivarnik says. "But most people will continue feeling a little sore. They do feel better, though — more relaxed, more mellow."
Most of his patients come in for a quick fix when they're in pain, but Mr. Pivarnik recommends preventive massage, suggesting that it can prevent injury.
In addition to massage and stretching, Dr. Rankin suggests taking a mild painkiller or two, such as acetaminophen, when feeling muscle soreness. The practice of taking ibuprofen before exercising — which some athletes do to prevent pain during physical activity — is not advisable, Dr. Rankin says.
It's not that the athletes necessarily become more injury prone because they feel less discomfort when they push hard, since the painkiller numbs the nerves a little. The danger with drugs such as ibuprofen is that they can cause gastrointestinal and other problems when overused.
Another therapeutic measure for strains combines rest, ice, compression and elevation, also known as RICE. Sometimes one or two of the components in RICE are enough.

Many doctors, especially orthopedic surgeons, caution athletes of all calibers against high-impact exercise, such as running, because of the long-term effects on joints and bones. Still, many people don't find low-impact activities, such as walking, enough of a challenge.
"I think it's the endorphins," Dr. Rankin says. "It's just an overall sense of well-being."
Endorphins are hormones released when one is exercising that have a euphoric effect on the brain.
Malcolm Gaskins, who works out at least an hour a day 365 days a year, has a different reason to push himself.
"Personally, as I get older, I want to look good," Mr. Gaskins, a resident of Northeast, says while pedaling away on a stationary bike at Tenley Sport and Health Club. "It's about vanity and about being able to maintain an active lifestyle."
Mr. Gaskin's motivation seems to work. At 45, he is trim and in better shape than many 20-year-olds.
Tricia Taylor-Irvin, 49, who works out two to three times a week, says pushing herself physically has immediate rewards; it's not just about losing weight.
"I push myself because I have more energy after the workouts," Mrs. Taylor-Irvin says. One recent afternoon, she says, she had so much extra energy she planned to go bicycling along the Potomac River after her workout.
After finishing her last 12 reps of 65-pound bench presses — while actively cheered on by her personal trainer, Mr. Crooks (amicably nicknamed "the executioner") Mrs. Taylor-Irvin sits up on the padded bench, sweating and breathing heavily. When she has caught her breath, she adds, "And we do this because when it's over, it's the best [high you can have]."

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