When you push your body a little harder than usual, you will likely feel two things: (1) a sense of accomplishment and (2) sore, aching muscles. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to end up with sore muscles. It doesn’t have to be a challenge to relieve muscle soreness and stiffness, either.
To decrease and relieve muscle soreness you need to do things that will:
- Increase the blood flow and oxygen to the area (to facilitate the breakdown of metabolic by-products and the removal of debris, and to speed up nutrients to the cells for healing).
- Relax the muscles.
Each of the following activities acts in both of these ways, helping to reduce or relieve muscle soreness. The sooner you initiate these simple techniques after your strenuous activity, the better:
- Static stretching. Lengthening overworked muscle fibers by stretching will make new muscle fibers more elastic, preventing future muscle soreness. Stretching should be slow and gentle. Stretch each muscle just to where you begin to feel the stretch then maintain that position until you feel the muscle let go. Bouncing or trying to stretch too far will do more harm than good.
- Light exercise. Muscles that are not used will become stiff and take longer to become pain free. Gentle, non-stressful exercise will increase the circulation and relax your muscles. Instead of dreading a long run around the block, go for a walk and take time to enjoy the scenery, or
- Massage. Massage acts much like light exercise or gentle stretching by increasing your circulation and coaxing the muscles to relax. The differences are that with massage you need to do nothing other than simply enjoy, and the massage therapist can locate and work with those areas of your musculature most in need of attention.
- Cold. Cold water or ice breaks the pain/ischemia/spasm cycle by increasing the circulation and interfering with the pain signals. Not only will ice help to relieve muscle soreness, but it is also an excellent anti-inflammatory agent and will greatly speed healing.
- Alternating heat and cold. Since the thought of hot often seems more soothing it is included here, but in combination with cold. Hot water will relax muscles and increase circulation but will also increase inflammation and swelling within muscle fibers. Therefore it is important to alternate with cold and end with cold. This can take the form of a sauna and swim, a whirlpool and cold plunge, a hot and cold shower or a hot bath and ice.
- Movement in the pool. Water supports your muscles and makes them easier to use. If you are extremely sore, it will be easier for you to use your muscles in the pool – either walking, stretching, or gently swimming.
Give your body what it needs. Drink plenty of water to keep you hydrated before, during, and after strenuous physical activities to help speed up recovery and relieve sore muscles. Supply your body with nutrients and seek out healthy sources of protein to rebuild damaged muscles. Nutritional supplements are a valuable source of essential nutrients. Lean meats, poultry, and fish are great sources of protein and a perfect addition to your post-workout recovery plan.