Pain is something we all strive to stay away from, but when it comes to muscle soreness after a workout, pain should actually be welcomed because it indicates results. Of course, I mean “the right kind of pain” here. No one should welcome an injury.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS is the kind of pain that NORMALLY appears within 12-72 hours after a good workout. The inflammation and healing associated with recovering from small amounts of muscle damage/tears that are caused from working out is what causes the pain, and in turn, what produces muscle growth and strength.
Though muscle soreness is a common part of exercise, no one said you have to suffer through it. Here are some tips to ease sore muscles after a tough workout.
What many people forget is that when it comes to achieving results, rest is just as important as the workout. Your muscles need rest and relaxation to heal and repair themselves so that they will grow stronger. Plan for at least one day per week of total rest, and alternate muscle groups with each workout to ensure that muscles get at least 24 hours of rest.
Stretching after a hard workout (while the muscles are still warm) goes a long way in increasing flexibility, speeding up recovery, and preventing soreness.
When already sore, stretching helps decrease the intensity of pain by bringing oxygen and blood flow to tense muscles, helping them to relax.
REMEMBER: Stretching is only effective if you hold the stretch long enough for the muscle to give/relax.
Stretch until you feel a good pull in the muscle, but not to the point where you feel pain. Hold the stretch for at least 15 to 30 seconds, or until you feel the muscle release. You can slowly push the muscle further as you feel the muscle begin to relax.
If you are having a hard time holding your stretches or targeting hard to get to muscles a StretchBuddy or resistance band may be of assistance. Yoga is also a great way to get your stretch on.
Lack of sleep not only slows muscle recovery but increases stress levels in your body, causing muscle tension and therefore pain. Aim for at least seven hours of sleep every night.
Hanging upside down
This one was new even for me. Apparently hanging upside down is great for soreness because it allows for a natural full body stretch and for blood to flow into the muscles (since the body is fighting gravity) Makes sense!
After you have completed your workout, find a bar, lift your legs (at the knees) around the bar and slowly hang upside, releasing your arms, letting yourself hang for a minute. If you are not limber enough to do this, lying off the edge of your bed face up can be just as effective for an upper body and core stretch.
* It is recommended to avoid staying upside down for long periods of time as it can cause health problems due to the blood rush to the head.
Eating right gives your muscles the proper nutrients needed to recover properly. Protein is very important for the building and healing of muscle tissue. Try your best to eat natural sources of protein such as meats, nuts, lentils and quinoa.
Read: What to Eat Before and After a Workout for more info
Massage & Acupuncture
There is nothing like a good massage to get over muscle pain. A deep tissue, full body massage by a certified massage therapist helps ease tension and increase blood flow to muscles at a deeper level. If you can, get one on your rest day after a week of hard training.
Acupuncture is also a great way to achieve muscle relaxation. A trained, certified acupuncturist knows how to target all the body’s pressure points, and will go after the ones that will relax tense areas.
Heat from a heating pad, warm bath, sauna or steam room are great way to ease muscle pain. You can even perform stretches while in the bath or sauna as muscles are warmed up.
Alternating hot and cold is also a great treatment as it opens up blood vessels causing more blood flow to the muscles. Try taking a cold shower after your hot bath.
WARNING: If you’re suffering from an injury, heat should be avoided as it may increase inflammation. Ice should be applied first, and heat should be limited to after swelling has gone down.
Meditation is not only a great stress reliever, but great for muscle relaxation too. Find a quiet spot where you can be alone, dim the lights and sit with your legs crossed, or lie on your back. Try to relax your mind while focusing on your breathing. Once your mind is clear, think of each body part, starting with your feet. Tense it up for a few seconds and then release, working your way up through your entire body (calves, quads, buttocks, hips, and so on). Once you’ve worked your way through your entire body, your whole body should feel relaxed.
This technique is best performed right before bed as your body will stay relaxed and heal quicker while you sleep.
Low-intensity Cardio/ Gentle Exercise
Your natural reaction may be not to move at all when you’re in pain, but light cardio or light exercise will help relieve pain by keeping muscles loose. Try 15 to 30 minutes of walking, biking, or swimming.
Creams and Medication
Anti-Inflammatory meds like NSAID creams and ibuprofen are a great aids for muscle pain relief.
WARNING: Do not mistake lack of pain from medication for actual muscle recovery. Make sure you give your muscles enough rest before exercising them in full force again in order to prevent injury.
Here are a few things Mother Nature provides for Muscle Pain Relief:
- Lemon Juice – Lemon juice is known to help carry oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. Add a lemon to your drinking water.
- Epsom Salt – Adding two cups of Epsom salt to your bath water will help with soreness.
- Magnesium – Magnesium is known to relax nerve signaling as well as muscle contractions in the body. Take a daily magnesium supplement, or get it the natural way from foods like brown rice, spinach, almonds, and peanuts.
- Vitamin C and Omega-3 – helps your muscles repair faster because they have natural anti-inflammatory properties. Eat citrus fruits for Vitamin C and fish, nuts, and bean for Omega3, or take supplements.
- Water-Your muscle mass is made up of 70% water. Drinking the recommended 8 glasses a day will go a long way in aiding muscle recovery and growth by carrying needed nutrients and minerals to your muscles’ cells.
Use proper judgement. If soreness is preventing you from doing normal daily tasks it could be due to muscle overuse or injury, and may need medical attention. Muscle soreness is common but not necessary to achieve results, so there is no need to purposely push yourself until you are sore.
Using the methods mentioned in this article can greatly help preventing and relieving muscle soreness, and speed along recovery. Do the ones that work for you after every workout.
Resources: webmd.com, active.com, askmen.com, livestrong.com, lifestyle.iloveindia.com