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Why do my muscles hurt after running?

Have you ever felt sore after exercise? Or wondered “why do my legs hurt after running”?

Muscle soreness can affect anyone no matter what fitness level. Athletes view this as a “good thing” as it shows that the training they are doing is having a positive effect on the body. It can be used as an indicator of improved fitness, so don’t be put off if your muscles hurt after running.

Why do my muscles feel sore after running?

Sore muscles after exercise, known better as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), can occur for a number of reasons. For example, your muscles hurt if you start a new training programme or increase the intensity of your run. If you are just starting out or returning from a period away from training both of these factors will play a part.

When working muscles harder than they are normally used to they can experience microscopic damage to the muscle fibres. This causes DOMS and you will normally feel this 24-48 hours later.

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Do all runners experience DOMS?

Anyone can experience DOMS and the majority of athletes will have experienced it at some point in their careers. It is not an indication of being unfit instead, it is highlighting that you have increased your training levels and the demands on the body.

It can be alarming if it is your first time experiencing DOMS. High-level athletes will have specific sessions in their programs that will invoke this muscle soreness. The level at which their muscles hurt will be used as a marker to how hard they have been working.

This soreness will decrease with time as your muscles get used to the new physical demands.

Think of the muscle soreness as your body adapting and that this process leads to greater stamina and strength as the muscles recover and build. 

How long will my muscles hurt after running?

DOMS typically lasts between 3 and 5 days. The pain is delayed and will normally become present 24-48 hours after your run. Depending on the intensity of the session it can which can range from mild to severe and you will experience a gradual build-up of muscle soreness and stiffness.

It is important to note that there are two types of pain;

Pain and discomfort.

Pain is what you experience as a result of an injury and will normally be sudden and sharp and localised to one area. Think of a pulled muscle, you will be able to point to one area where it hurts.

Discomfort is what you will experience with DOMS. It will feel like a large are of the body, in some cases, the whole body is sore and aches.

Another identifier of an injury is bruising, swelling or it is warm to touch. If these are present or you are unsure then always seek medical advice.

How can I treat DOMS?

Everyone is different when it comes to managing DOMS and there are no “silver bullets” but here are a few things that can help to reduce DOMS after running;

Active recovery.

Finish your run with a 15-minute steady-state jog, reducing the shock the body experiences if you suddenly end a high-intensity run.  


Reduce the inflammation to the muscles as well as cooling them down so the body can focus the energy to has on tissue repair.


After Ice a hot shower to increase the blood flow to the muscles aiding with the transport of oxygen and nutrients in the blood to aid tissue repair.


This provides support to the muscles as well as maintaining good blood pressure, reducing excessive swelling and inflammation and keeping the muscles warm.

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How do I prevent my muscles hurting after a run?

Prevention is the best cure.

The best way to prevent muscle soreness after training is to have a program that will gradually build up your fitness levels and strength. This will give the muscles and the body time to adapt and work more efficiently.

Hydration is key. Think about the difference between a grape and a raisin. 60% of our body is water, so the grape represents a well-hydrated cell in the body. Remove that fluid and it loses the elastic properties that the boy needs resulting in you feeling stiff and sore.

Don’t stretch. Stretching has been found to have a negative impact on the body’s ability to recover after a run and can actually make DOMS worse. If the muscles have experienced microscopic tears as a result of a hard session then stretching has the potential to make them worse. Don’t stretch before or after running.

Can I continue running with DOMS?

You can continue to run when you have DOMS but it will be uncomfortable, to begin with. It will ease as your muscles warm and your blood flow and breathing increases but you will most likely experience further muscles soreness after you stop.

The best thing to do is structure your training so that the following day you are doing one of these;

  • 30 minute light jog or walk
  • Pool session
  • 30 min yoga
  • Massage
  • Gym session at 30% your normal weight/resistance.

This is called active recovery and is aimed at increasing your heart rate enough without putting additional stress on the body or muscles.

Will I keep getting DOMS?

DOMS is a type of muscle conditioning, it means that your muscles are adapting to the new training level. The next time you train or compete to the same level the muscle soreness will not be as bad. But as soon as you change or increase your runs you will most likely experience DOMS to some level.

Start to think of them as your body telling you that you are improving.

How to prevent DOMS


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