Fitness and Training

Quick Fixes for Sore Muscles

Sore muscles are one of the less pleasant side effects of exercise. Depending on the type and intensity of the workout, muscle soreness after a workout can range from barely noticeable to extremely painful.
Why Do Our Muscles Get Sore in the First Place?

Muscle soreness after exercise (also referred to as delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS) signals that you caused damage to your muscle tissue, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). When this damage, or micro-tearing, happens, your body initiates the repair process by triggering inflammation at the injured site, says Shawn Arent, PhD, CSCS, a professor and the chair in the department of exercise science at the University of South Carolina in Columbia and the director of its sports science lab.

Fluid accumulates in the muscles, putting extra pressure on the damaged areas, leading to that familiar sensation of tightness and pain that typically begins to develop 12 to 24 hours after your workout, Dr. Arent says.

While you create a little bit of damage every time you exercise, certain types of workouts are notorious for higher levels of damage and — by extension — soreness. In particular, any workout that’s new to you, more intense than usual, or involves a lot of eccentric movements will likely cause more damage and muscle soreness than other types of workouts.

It’s the eccentric, or lengthening muscle, contractions that are causing the soreness, says Jan Schroeder, PhD, the chair and a professor in the department of kinesiology at California State University in Long Beach. Think: walking or jogging down a hill, or the lowering motion during a biceps curl or chest press. Your muscles typically sustain greater damage during these types of movements than during concentric exercises (ones where your muscle is working as it is shortening). Muscles face a lot of stress during both types of movement, but fewer muscle fibers get recruited to carry out eccentric contractions versus concentric ones (such as curling a dumbbell or pressing weight overhead), according to one review.

Some Muscle Soreness Is a Good Thing, but It Shouldn’t Last for Too Long
Torn, inflamed muscles sound bad — and we certainly want to minimize inflammation in our normal daily lives, because research has shown chronic inflammation contributes to many chronic diseases. But some degree of inflammation can be an important signal for muscle growth and repair, according to Arent. If you help your muscles recover from the damage, they’ll likely grow back bigger and stronger. “It’s not so much that we don’t want inflammation to occur, but we want to get it under control as soon as possible,” Arent says.

And you probably want the soreness to go away so you can get back to moving and living pain-free.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to be sore after a workout in order for it to be effective. Soreness means damage, and damage is fine in small doses, but you don’t have to create soreness-inducing damage every time you work out. “That shouldn’t be your goal,” Dr. Schroeder says. “You don’t have to be sore to know you had a good workout.”

Does Warming Up Lessen Post-Workout Muscle Soreness?
You may have heard that stretching can help prevent injury and soreness. But static stretching your muscles before you exercise is probably not a good idea. “I’m not a fan of stretching before you start training,” Arent says.

A 2021 review found that post-exercise stretching had no significant positive or negative effect on recovery compared to passive recovery (i.e., rest).

Some evidence suggests that a dynamic warmup immediately before a workout could reduce muscle soreness up to two days later, but the reduction in soreness seen in research has been very small.

1. During and After Your Workout: Hydrate
It might sound obvious, but staying hydrated is an important aspect of muscle recovery. Water keeps the fluids moving through your system, which eases inflammation, flushes out waste products, and delivers nutrients to your muscles, Arent says.

The trouble is, it can be tricky to know if and when you’re dehydrated, as you’ll probably reach dehydration before thirst hits, according to Schroeder.

According to one review, you should drink about 13 to 20 ounces (oz) of water about two hours before starting exercise. To maintain hydration, the researchers recommend drinking about 5 to 10 oz every 15 to 20 minutes of exercise. For workouts over 90 minutes, they recommend drinking some type of electrolyte beverage.

The color of your urine also provides a good indication of hydration: Medium or dark yellow signals dehydration, whereas pale yellow means you’re hydrated. Just be aware that taking vitamin supplements may cause your urine to look darker than usual. Who will be affected, and by what types of vitamin supplements? That’s hard to say. “Everybody’s different,” Schroeder says.

2. Immediately After Your Workout, Use a Foam Roller (Self-Myofascial Release) or Massage Gun
Self-myofascial release (SMR) is a technique used to release tension in muscles and connective tissues (foam rollers, lacrosse balls, and massage sticks are common SMR tools), helping to move the fluids that accumulate in the muscle after exercise.

One review found that foam rolling may help increase range of motion and reduce DOMS. Foam rolling, as well as other types of massage, increases circulation to deliver more nutrients and oxygen to the affected area, which helps reduce swelling and tenderness, Arent explains.

If you’re interested in trying a foam roller, look for a softer version to begin with. Firmer foam rollers allow you to apply more pressure, but they can be intense if you’re unaccustomed to them. Lacrosse balls can also be handy tools to keep around, as they’re ideal for smoothing out hard-to-reach spots, like the glutes, lats, calves, and the iliotibial (IT) bands, Arent notes. Just make sure you only use a roller on soft tissue and not directly on bones or joints, according to the ACSM.

Massage guns (also called “percussive massage treatment” or “vibration therapy”) are another popular tool to promote post-workout muscle recovery.

“Percussive self-massage devices work similarly to massage in general,” Arent says. These handheld machines deliver rapid vibrations that, when placed on your muscles, can help promote blood flow to that area. Many massage guns come with attachments of various shapes and sizes to better target different-sized muscle groups.

According to Leada Malek, DPT, CSCS, a board-certified sports specialist in San Francisco, few studies have examined the effectiveness of massage guns specifically, but massage guns may combine two elements that have been backed by science: conventional massage and vibration therapy. For example, research has found that both methods are equally effective in preventing DOMS.

If you’re interested in using a massage gun post-workout, Dr. Malek suggests finding an area that feels tight and lightly sweeping over the belly of the muscle. “Add pressure as tolerated, but not too aggressively,” she says. The Hospital for Special Surgery recommends doing three to five sweeps over one area at a time. Take care not to spend too long in one spot or you risk irritating the muscle.

Source: everydayhealth

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