Why do we have stiffness?


The pains appear when you submit the muscle to an effort that is not prepared at that time.

There are different theories that explain those pains that appear in the muscle after intense exercise. One of the things that is said about them is that they occur when the muscle is not trained, meaning that it happens only to people who have no training. And that is not entirely true. I work in the Higher Sports Council with elite athletes and at the beginning of the season at least some of them also have aches and pains.

That’s because the stiffness appears when you submit the muscle to an effort that is not prepared at that time, or what is the same, to an overexertion. The difference between these elite athletes and the rest of the people who do physical exercise is that the first ones who are very prepared, they last much less.

Laces are produced by an excess of work in the muscles. Its medical name is delayed myalgia or late onset muscle pain. For a time it was thought that it was due to the damage that lactic acid produced in the affected muscles. This theory is currently discarded. The most accepted hypothesis at present is that the laces are due to the fact that with intense exercise micro-fractures of muscle fibers occur. There is another minority theory but in my opinion it makes sense together with that of micro-tears and that is the stiffness is caused by the increase in local and intramuscular temperature that produces intense exercise, an increase in temperature that increases micro-injuries. I believe that the two are united and are the cause of the stiffness.

These micro-tears and micro-injuries cause inflammation of the tissue and this inflammatory process has all the consequences associated with it, one of which is the sensation of pain when the organism defends itself from that inflammation. But why does it hurt? Well, because some substances are released that provoke nociceptive stimuli, that is, those stimuli of the nerves that the brain interprets as pain.

The shoelaces last more or less depending on the degree of micro-tears. They usually appear the day after the intense effort or even two days. And they usually last between two or three days. The time they last depends a lot on the physical preparation that the athlete has, for example to the high level athletes the laces are removed immediately. And they also decrease in time if they are treated. Many times we see marathon runners who when they finish the races put their legs in plastic pools with water and ice cubes. Or the NBA players when they finish the game put their legs, their hands in ice water. And that is to decrease inflation. Cold water is a good treatment against stiffness. It is very comforting although the principle seems that the muscles are burning, that’s because it increases the vascularization in that tissue and makes it move more all the waste products, also those of the own micro-tears. That is, pain and inflammation disappear more quickly.

It is also useful to exercise low intensity so that muscle re-regularizes its metabolism, its contractibility and facilitates recovery. Gentle stretching or a discharge massage that favors the disposal of these waste products is very effective.

This is the way to fight them but there are also preventive actions to avoid them. What to take sachets of sugar that is recommended sometimes not only does not improve the laces but is harmful to the body. The best way to prevent them is, in addition to being very well hydrated as dehydration increases muscle injury, have a good diet. Eating a proper menu before playing sports has adequate reserves of glycogen, ATP and phosphocreatine, the products that give energy to the cells, and that makes the muscle is able to exercise. If for example you are going to do a hike, hiking, you have to prepare, not just a while before, but even, the day before. You must know how you have to feed yourself to prepare your muscles. The adaptation of the food regulation and the exercise that is going to be carried out. It is also important to warm up before starting the exercise, so that the muscles do not get into that intense cold exercise.

It is important that you know that stiffness is also an object of investigation. Right now, for example, I lead a study of isokinetic muscle strength in athletes with and without laces. What we want to see is how stiffness affects muscle strength in volunteers who undergo intense exercise. We measure the strength of your muscles before doing the intense exercise, when they already have the stiffness and once they have passed. What we intend is to understand how stiffness affects muscle strength.

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