How to Lessen Muscle Soreness from Exercise

woman stretching

Muscle soreness is quite common after strenuous physical activity. Known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), this type of pain usually occurs 24 to 48 hours after a high-intensity workout. The discomfort results from microscopic tears in the muscles. This is a natural part of building those muscles up and isn’t an indicator that you should quit. Here’s what you can do to manage muscle soreness.

Warm Up and Cool Down

Bracket every exercise session with a warm-up and cool-down period. You should spend 10 to 15 minutes stretching your muscles before any high-intensity workout. Follow this with some low-key aerobic activity to get your blood flowing. Fast-paced walking, stair climbs, side stepping, lunges, and squats are all great options. Warming up reduces your risk of injury and decreases muscle soreness post-exercise.

At the end of your workout, gradually slow down the pace of your activity. Then, perform these same tasks in reverse order. Do some easy aerobic exercises and finish up with a gentle stretch. Stretch each body part for 10 to 15 seconds to lengthen your muscles and bring them back to a comfortable resting state.

Eat the Right Diet

Eating the right foods helps speed recovery and fuels your body for future workouts. You need plenty of protein to help your muscles repair and rebuild. Fatty fish, such as salmon, provides highly bioavailable protein. As an added bonus, fish contains omega-3 fats that reduce inflammation and support muscle growth. Nuts are another great source of protein. Brazil nuts are particularly beneficial, as they’re high in magnesium, which helps with muscle repair and function.

Quality carbs deliver the energy you need to power through post-exercise fatigue and stay fueled for your future ventures. Focus on whole grains to help prevent muscle cramps. Other foods that are beneficial for muscle soreness include:

  • Tart cherry juice: It contains anthocyanins that reduce muscle damage and minimize muscle pain.
  • Beets: They provide betalains that reduce oxidative damage and fight inflammation.
  • Cottage cheese: It delivers branched-chain amino acid leucine that speeds muscle pain recovery.
  • Eggs: They’re rich in vitamin A, zinc, selenium, and fatty acids, which hasten muscle recovery.
  • Coffee: It blocks the body’s adenosine receptors, which activate pain.

You should also make sure your diet includes plenty of water. Protein shakes, coffee, and some fresh fruit and vegetable juices can provide ample benefits, though you shouldn’t consume them to the exclusion of clean, pure water. Aim to consume around 8 ounces of water for every 15 to 30 minutes of exercise. If you become dehydrated, you’ll experience more muscle soreness, and the pain may linger longer.

Massage Your Muscles

A professional sports massage is the best way to address sore muscles from a serious workout. Let your massage therapist know what type of activity you’ve been doing and where you’re feeling soreness so they can adjust their approach accordingly. Massage increases blood flow and removes stagnant fluids from the area, which helps speed up the recovery process. Massage also releases painful tightness and helps the muscles relax.

If you don’t have the time or money for a professional massage, you can get many of the same benefits from self-massage. Try rolling the sore parts of your body over a foam roller or massage ball to apply pressure and release trigger points. Try using a foam roller immediately after your workout and before you go through your cool-down stretching routine. You’ll get extra perks from rolling your muscles while they’re warm and relaxed rather than stiff and sore.

Heat It Up

Apply heat to your muscles immediately after exercising to reduce muscle soreness. Wet heat is the most effective. Try placing warm damp towels or warm heating packs on your muscles after a workout. A warm bath will also do the trick, providing a welcome way to unwind and relax after exercising. For a bonus, toss some Epsom salts into the bath to tackle muscle pain and inflammation. Dry heat can also be beneficial, but the results typically aren’t quite as good.

Use caution with any type of heat. Stay within a reasonable temperature and remove the source of heat if you feel a burning sensation or any other type of discomfort.

Don’t Stop Moving

When you’re suffering from muscle soreness, it’s tempting to hole up in bed and hibernate till you recover. As cozy as this might feel, it won’t provide you with the real benefits you’re after. It’s better to keep your body moving to combat muscle stiffness. You don’t need to engage in a full-on workout, but some light activity, such as a walk, a gentle bike ride, or a swim, can warm up your muscles and keep the blood circulating to remove the chemicals and waste that cause muscle stiffness and soreness.

This type of light exercise is especially beneficial the first day after a workout. The second day after a serious workout is usually more painful than the first and may necessitate a day of rest. Wait at least 48 hours after a high-intensity workout before using the same muscles again strenuously. Get moving again on the third day to keep promoting recovery.

Exercise Properly

There’s a right and a wrong way to exercise. If you’re not familiar with the proper technique and appropriate posture for the activity you’re engaging in, consider working with a trainer for a few sessions. Using the right form will help you avoid excessive soreness and the potential for serious injury.

It’s important not to push yourself too far, particularly when an activity is new to you. Though you may want to test your limits, you should do so gradually. If you try to push the limits too quickly, you could injure yourself, making it impossible to reach your full fitness potential.

If your muscle pain goes beyond DOMS, you may have a more serious sports injury. Our sports medicine clinic in Denton, North Texas, can help you address these issues. Contact us to make an appointment.


Image by Anastasia Hisel is licensed with Unsplash License