Written By Nina Simons / Reviewed By Ray Spotts
It’s perfectly normal to experience sore muscles after a workout, long walk, or any physical activity. This type of discomfort is usually a sign that we are on the right track to be fit and in shape. However, it’s far from a comfortable sensation and can even result in slowing down exercise and making you fall behind with your fitness plans.
To deal with muscle soreness, you have to understand how it happens and what kind of lifestyle can lessen its impact. This may require extra effort on your part, but the results are worth the hassle in the end. Here are 16 things you should know about sore muscles and methods to recover from the problem faster.
1. Muscles undergo stress during a workout
Let’s start with the basics and learn why muscles become sore in the first place. When you work out, the exertion creates microtears and lactic acid build ups in the muscles which in turn leads to pain and inflammation. This is a good thing since your muscles recover as stronger from this, something obvious in strength training.
When this soreness prevents you from regular activity and causes constant discomfort, you need to think of ways to remedy it. It’s important not to overdo it and allow your body to recover before you increase the intensity of the workouts.
2. Two types of muscle soreness
Other than injury, there are two types of sore muscles you may feel after physical activity:
- Delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS
- Acute muscle soreness.
The latter happens immediately after the activity and resolves quickly. It’s characterized by a burning sensation because of lactic acid accumulation in the muscle tissue. On the other hand, DOMS can be more severe and happens 24 to 72 hours after the exertion. This is due to microscopic tears in muscular tissue caused by pushing your muscles too hard or using them differently than usual.
The good news is that DOMS lessens over time as you get used to the exercise intensity. Unfortunately, acute muscle soreness is something you may still get after any physical activity. Sore muscles are indicators that you are adapting to the intensity or duration of your workout, but not how fit you are. More pain doesn’t mean you will get in shape faster.
3. Increase levels of hydration
Water is the best way to stay hydrated and lower the levels of muscle soreness when exercising. Dehydration can cause pain and cramps in the muscles, so drinking recommended amounts of water may lessen or deter soreness. Detoxification helps to eliminate toxins from the broken-down muscles that cause the soreness, and water plays a major role in this process.
You should drink 11 to 16 cups of water every day, if you are staying hydrated only with H2O. If not, calculate other beverages into your daily hydration levels. Also, some veggies and fruits are rich in water and great to snack on, like celery, cucumbers, watermelon, oranges, strawberries, tomatoes, etc. Electrolyte-infused beverages also fall under daily hydration, even soup.
4. Always cool down after a workout
Cooling down after a workout for five to 10 minutes after intense physical activity can work wonders for DOMS. Walking at a normal pace may eliminate the deposits of lactic acid and lead to less severe delayed muscle soreness. Jogging or bike riding is also an option if you are up for it, just take it easy and don’t push yourself too hard.
Knee-to-chest pose, seated forward bend, and corpse pose are also a good choice if you are more comfortable. Don’t forget to breathe deeply to maximize the amount of oxygen in your muscles and relax.
5. Continue exercising
No matter how uncomfortable the muscle soreness, you need to continue exercising. Muscles become sore when you are doing some new exercise or activity since they are not used to it. But once the soreness stops, it will happen again only if you increase the intensity of strain you put them through.
Of course, if you experience a lot of pain, don’t force yourself. Try some low-intensity workouts or exercise other muscle groups for a couple of days. It may be prudent to start slow with your training and increase it a little each time to avoid severe soreness.
6. Use infrared therapy after physical exertion
A 2016 study on the outcomes of using infrared therapy for DOMS showed promising results. It involved scientific observation of 60 individuals, 16 to 35 years old, with induced muscle soreness in one muscle. The results showed that the infrared group recovered faster than the group with no treatment and the group using warm-up exercises.
Today, infrared saunas are available at gyms and for home use. You can also buy infrared lamps, but they can only treat one muscle at a time. It’s best to use infrared therapy after the workout and even on days you are not training at all for the most benefits.
7. Heat therapy may also help
If infrared therapy is not accessible to you, using other types of heat can also be good for your sore muscles. Making a heating pad at home is not that complicated. Just place one damp towel in a ziplock bag and heat it open in a microwave for two minutes. After you remove it from the microwave, close the bag, wrap another damp towel around it, and apply it to the tender spot.
Other options are heating packs, heating pads, rubber hot-water bottle, and soaking in a warm bath, especially if you pour Epsom salt in it. Make sure that whatever type of heat therapy you use is not too hot or it may lead to burns.
8. Cold therapy can reduce pain, too
Putting cold compresses on the affected area can reduce swelling and reduce the pain. Use a bag of frozen veggies, reusable ice pack, ice bag, or wrap ice cubes in a towel. The most important thing is not to apply ice to the skin directly to avoid frostbite.
Soaking in a cold bath may be the best solution for sore muscles, based on research published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. Use a thermometer to prepare a 50°F or 10°C bath, add some relaxing essential oils, and soak the whole body or just the sore muscle for 10 minutes.
9. NSAID medication may not be a good idea
When pain becomes too uncomfortable, it’s normal to reach for medication. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs are the usual choice, but that may not be such a good idea. While they are used for inflammation, they may also cause gastrointestinal problems, stroke, and heart failure.
So, before you decide to take them, consult with your doctor and check if there are any other options with less serious side effects. Some research showed that arnica creams and ointments may relieve pain and inflammation when applied topically to the sore area.
10. Indulge yourself with a massage
When it comes to massage, you have the option of treating yourself with one at one of the spa centers. If you decide to do that, it’s best to book your appointment 48 hours after the exercise. This will give you the best results and take care of DOMS, not to mention improve your physical performance.
If you are not a fan of being massaged, you can do it by yourself with a foam roller. Based on the data obtained from a 14 study review, self-massage with a roller can decrease DOMS in the next few days if performed after a workout. In general, massage can improve circulation, bringing the sore muscles more oxygen and nutrients that have a mitigating result.
11. Eat antioxidant-rich food
Some foods can have anti-inflammatory properties, like watermelon which is full of L-citrulline, an amino acid known to help with sore muscles. This type of food is full of antioxidants that fight off free radicals and prevent cellular damage. Kale, salmon, broccoli, mushrooms, blueberries, and bone broth are some of the options for an anti-inflammatory diet.
Spices and herbs, like ginger, turmeric, and garlic can both make your meals tastier and stimulate the immune system to fight inflammation. If you don’t have time to cook, try some of the thousands of smoothie recipes available that will give you a healthy and nutritional boost to relieve muscle soreness.
12. Get enough protein
Your body needs protein every day, but more so if you are putting your body through physical activity. It’s essential for building muscle and can be a great help with recovery from muscle soreness, especially DOMS. The key is to eat enough protein all the time, before and after a workout, for example, 95 to 135 grams daily if you weigh 150 pounds.
Lean meats, fish, beans, dairy products, tofu, nuts, and eggs are some of the popular protein-packed foods. If you are unsure how to create a meal plan, it’s always a good idea to consult a professional nutritionist and work on your diet together.
13. Add creatine supplements to your diet
Supplements are important for maintaining optimum health since certain beneficial ingredients can’t be ingested with food alone. You already know that protein and amino acids are vital to helping your body performance during workouts, but there are other compounds to consider as well. One of them is creatine powder which can affect the body at the cellular level.
Obtained from amino acids, creatine can lower the build-up of lactic acid and hydrogen ions responsible for the burning sensation and fatigue in muscles. While you can obtain it through meat, fish, and eggs, it may not be enough for active athletes so you have to use it as a supplement.
14. Go for dynamic stretching
You may have been stretching the wrong way all along. While a study on 2,377 participants concluded that stretching before and after a workout has insignificant or small effects on soreness, using dynamic moves may say otherwise.
Stretching before exercise may have a better effect if you use dynamic moves. Circling your arms is a great example of this type of stretching since it includes both muscles and joints in repetitive moves. Walking lunges are also a good way to start and increase your blood flow and flexibility which are great for minimizing muscle soreness.
15. Apply pressure to the affected muscles
A compression garment may give you relief from muscle soreness if you wear it for 24 hours after exercise. This happens because it increases circulation in the sore area which leads to quicker recovery and decreases fluid buildup, reducing swelling and inflammation. There are different types of compression garments for each body part, the most common varieties being socks, leggings, and sleeves.
Korean scientists conducted research in 2017 to determine the effects that wearing compression garments can have on muscles. The results showed a significant reduction in muscle soreness if the compression was worn after eccentric exercise.
16. Consult your physician
DOMS is a condition that in most cases won’t send you to the hospital and can end in a few days. If this is not the case, you should talk to your doctor and go for an examination since it may mean you’ve injured yourself. Symptoms of DOMS that last over a week or are recurrent should always be reported to the physician and not treated at home.
Being aware of your body’s potential is a valuable means of preventing serious damage to your muscles and prolonged soreness. Moreover, the severity of soreness is not a sign that you are getting the most from exercise, so train with regard to your physical readiness and ability.
Sore muscles may seem like an obstruction to exercise, but you shouldn’t stop completely and only change the intensity of training. Introducing supplements, like creatine, eating more protein, using infrared, heat, and cold therapy, and hydrating may lessen the discomfort from muscle soreness.
Patience is the crucial factor of changing your body and making it fitter, especially if you weren’t physically active before. After a while, the DOMS effects will go away and you will continue your journey to improve your health and body.
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Nina Simons is a blogger, yoga aficionado and healthy lifestyle enthusiast. She's passionate about learning new things and sharing meaningful ideas. If you want to see what she's up to you can find her on twitter
Founder Ray Spotts has a passion for all things natural and has made a life study of nature as it relates to health and well-being. Ray became a forerunner bringing products to market that are extraordinarily effective and free from potentially harmful chemicals and additives. For this reason Ray formed Trusted Health Products, a company you can trust for clean, effective, and healthy products. Ray is an organic gardener, likes fishing, hiking, and teaching and mentoring people to start new businesses. You can get his book for free, “How To Succeed In Business Based On God’s Word,” at www.rayspotts.com.