Pain is a protective stimulus produced by our body signaling us that something is wrong. When we touch a hot pan or a cloth on fire, we feel pain and the stimulus reaches our brain telling us to take away our hand as a response. Thus, protecting our hands from severe damage called the “burns”. But pain is not a pleasant phenomenon, be it a needle prick, a fracture or a long-term illness. It is actually an awful emotional outbreak. So, what is good pain and bad pain? Where is the actual line in between? Soreness is described as good and is a normal response whereas pain is actually something indicative of injury and is abnormal. Let’s talk about the actual topic.
What is muscle soreness?
We will start with an example. When you suddenly plan up a routine with heavy and strenuous exercise or work which was not a part of your daily life before, your body actually feels different. Your muscles experience a sudden surprise and land up into a micro trauma. This micro trauma is termed as “muscle soreness” or “muscle fever”. Here, the muscles get clogged too not with electrons but with gunk called the “lactic acid” which is normally not the part of our metabolism but it is a product of an alternative pathway of producing energy without oxygen.
There are different causes of muscle pain: tension, stress, overuse or maybe a minor injury.
Types of muscle soreness:
- Typical mild muscle soreness
- Delayed onset muscle soreness
- Injury type muscle soreness
- Other conditions with muscle soreness
Typical mild muscle soreness: It is the soreness we experience on the day of workout. Here, the muscles, as described earlier, experience a micro trauma and there is production of lactic acid in the muscles (at the muscle fiber-myofibril level). Due to excessive strain caused by the workout, the muscles actually starve for nutrition in the form of energy. Usually, oxygen concentration in our body decreases after a workout or a heavy exercise. Thus the body chooses an alternative pathway where oxygen is not required to produce energy that is the lactic acid pathway. Thus, there is excessive production of lactic acid in the muscles causing pain and the muscles become sore to touch.
This type of soreness is not dangerous or harmful but is a good soreness of mild nature in which there is no muscle impairment. TMMS is actually an indicator of a good workout and it signifies muscle growth. It triggers adaptation. Once the body gets adapted to the routine, soreness disappears.
Delayed onset muscle soreness: It is popularly known as DOMS or deep muscle soreness. It is the soreness experienced by the body after 2-3 days of workout. This doesn’t allow the complete contraction of the muscles. It is usually seen when the person embarks the exercise program for the first time or if a particular body part is trained more than usual. It lasts for 5-7 days in a beginner and for a couple of days in an athlete. It is not due to the accumulation of lactic acid but due to oozing out of inflammatory mediators in the muscles including the white blood cells, interleukins etc. which cause swelling and pain (lactic acid usually disappears quickly). In this case, the person won’t be able to lift his arm to brush his teeth and won’t be able to straighten his arms. This pain can either be relieved by removing the waste so accumulated in the muscles or by forcing high concentration of blood into the damaged area. The latter is to provide nutrition to the muscles for growth and repair.
Injury type muscle soreness: It is not at all same as the two described above. This kind of soreness causes total immobilization and the pain is sharp in nature. The soreness depends upon the type of injury and it is felt when the muscle is moved in a certain way or constantly. Onset may be immediate or a day after injury.
Other conditions causing muscle soreness
- Rhabdomyolosis: it is a life threatening condition in which the muscle fibers breakdown and enter the blood stream. It is a side effect of “statins”.
- Muscle cramps
- Muscle strain/rupture
- Post-polio syndrome
- Lyme disease
Various athletes and their trainers are “steroid-lovers” because of its quick and profound effect on muscle soreness which helps in enhancing their performance. Now, I suppose those steroid loving professional athletes and trainers would like to revisit some herbs used by our ancestors.
Cinnamon and muscle soreness
An aromatic spice available in every kitchen is a brown bark of cinnamon tree present in dried tubular form known as quill or ground powder. Cinnamon not only adds taste to your food but also has many remarkable health benefits. It is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial in nature. Cinnamon, a traditional medicine used by our ancestors contains some essential components: cinnamic aldehyde and cinnamyl alcohol. Cinnamic aldehyde so present has anticoagulant, antioxidant and immune stimulating properties. The cinnamyl alcohol reduces the release of arachidonic acid which is an inflammatory fatty acid, thus exhibiting its anti-inflammatory actions.
Cinnamon is also a rich source of calcium which makes it highly beneficial not just for your bones to be strong but also for your muscles to contract. 1 tbsp. of cinnamon provides 78 mg of calcium.
Cinnamon contains eugenol which makes it a pain reliever due to its prostaglandin E inhibiting action. Prostaglandins are lipid compounds obtained from fatty acids via enzymatic reactions. PGE causes both local and systemic inflammation. Eugenol also acts as an anesthetic as well as an antiseptic. No wonder why cinnamon is effective in relief of muscle soreness.
Cinnamon is not only helpful for post workout muscle soreness but also for muscle soreness seen in flu or “cold” conditions. It is known to be a warming herb in such cases. Ginger and cinnamon go very well together and does wonders. They stimulate circulation especially to fingers and toes. They relieve the muscle pain and other symptoms of viral conditions also.
Here, I would like to quote one study conducted by the department of community nutrition in school of nutrition and food science, Iran’s Isfahan University of Medical sciences. They studied the effects of ginger and cinnamon on muscle soreness and compared the results with that of placebo. The study was conducted on 60 Iranian healthy females who were trained taekwondo players (taekwondo – a martial art). It was an investigation of six weeks duration. Those 60 females were grouped into 3 batches:
- Batch 1: cinnamon
- Batch 2: ginger
- Batch 3: placebo
All the females received 3g of powder of any of the 3 everyday depending upon the batch they belonged to. The IL-6 (indicator of inflammation, an inflammatory mediator) levels and Likert scale (a psychometric scale used in research employing questionnaire) of muscle soreness were evaluated in the start as well as in the end of the investigation.
Out of the 60 females, 49 completed the six week investigation. There were no significant changes observed in the IL-6 levels in both cinnamon and ginger group as compared to the placebo group. But the muscle soreness showed significant fall in cinnamon and ginger group.
The females who received ginger and cinnamon showed marked decrease in muscle soreness as compared to the placebo group, though there were no significant changes in their IL-6 levels. Researchers say that the 3g dosage of ginger and cinnamon was not enough to make a measurable difference in the IL-6 levels though both ginger and cinnamon are known for their strong anti-inflammatory qualities. These results were published in the International journal of Preventive Medicine. Similar study by University of Georgia confirmed the same about ginger and cinnamon.
It is not necessary that natural foods and spices are safe even if consumed in unlimited amounts. Cinnamon is safe if consumed in food amounts or medicinal amounts.
Studies say that ½ to 1 tsp. (2-4gms) of cinnamon is enough for daily consumption. Some even suggest that it is safe to consume cinnamon up to 6 grams. But very high doses and that too for a long term is definitely toxic.
Precautions and warnings
Some precautions with cinnamon:
- Some people may be allergic to cinnamon, so it is better to avoid cinnamon in their diet. Cinnamon may cause mouth sores or stomatitis (infected gums, taste buds and burning sensation of tongue and mouth tissue). It irritates the soft tissue of mouth because of its caustic nature. Small amounts are preferred whereas consuming pack after pack is harmful.
- Cinnamon contains a component called “coumarin” which may cause or worsen liver disease. So, it is better to stick to fewer amounts in patients with a liver disease. Coumarin is usually present in the cassia species of cinnamon.
- Pregnancy and breast feeding: It is better to avoid the use of cinnamon in pregnant and breast feeding women. Though not enough information is known but studies suggest that it may cause harm to the brain of the unborn child.
- Diabetes: Cinnamon affects blood sugar levels. So, before and after administering the diabetic patient with cinnamon in his/her diet, watch for signs of hypoglycemia and stick to less amount in usual.
- Surgery: Cinnamon may interfere in the blood sugar levels before and after a surgery which might lead to serious complications. So, it is advised to stop consuming cinnamon 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
- Cinnamon includes various species including cassia, verum and Ceylon. Out of which cassia is usually harmful as they are blood thinners. Ceylon or verum species are preferred.