An injury sustained during exercise may cause significant pain. Muscles strains and sprains, blisters, chafing, and even broken bones are not uncommon occurrences, and most people understand why these situations may leave an athlete in pain for a few days following an intense workout. What many people may not realize, however, is that working out may cause pain even no injury is sustained. The culprit? Lactic acidosis.
Simply put, lactic acidosis is a buildup of lactic acid in the body. The pH of the human body is tightly regulated by the body itself. The body’s pH is typically slightly basic, or alkaline. When acid of any form increases in the body, the body’s pH is thrown off, resulting in acidosis. Lactic acid is created in response to the body’s cells struggling with high-energy demands in a relatively low oxygen situation, which is what the body is exposed to with moderate to serious exercise, particularly exercises designed to increase speed or muscle mass, such as sprinting or weightlifting. This built up lactic acid is typically rapidly cleaned up by the liver during rest periods.
During intense workouts, a person may begin to experience symptoms of lactic acidosis. Such symptoms may include nausea, weakness, burning sensation in the muscles, muscle cramps, and a feeling of exhaustion. These symptoms are temporary and typically subside with rest. The key to avoiding exercise-induced lactic acidosis is the gradually increase the intensity of your workout. Trying to go from being a chronic Netflix binge-watcher to trying to run a 10K in a week is likely to lead to various forms of misery. However, gradually increasing your exercise level from walking to fast-walking to jogging to running over the course of many weeks may build up your endurance as well as your lactate threshold, or the amount of lactic acid your body can break down. If symptoms begin to occur during an exercise session, switch to a cool down routine, followed by a period of rest. Listen to your body – it will tell you when it’s ready for another exercise session. Drinking plenty of water and eating a well-balanced diet may also help prevent lactic acidosis. Frequent rests and adequate sleep are also important.
Lactic acidosis may also be caused by underlying medical conditions, such as some forms of cancer, severe infections, liver or kidney disease, heart disease, seizure disorders, and diabetes. Some medications may also lead to lactic acidosis, such as metformin (used to control diabetes) and many HIV/AIDS medications. These conditions may allow lactic acid to build up to dangerous levels. If you have any of the aforementioned conditions and experience lactic acidosis symptoms, talk with your doctor to ensure proper treatment.