Experiencing muscle pain after exercise is part of becoming active and healthy. But don’t fret. There are ways how you can get through your fitness routine and manage the occasional body discomfort.
For example, you can perform active recovery to cool down tired muscles and relieve soreness. The use of massaging devices soothes moderate muscular discomfort, too. But the best remedy of all is a good night’s rest.
However, you must know how to apply these solutions for safety and optimum results.
Also, it’s best to follow preventive measures to lessen the soreness or avoid extreme muscle pain post-workout.
So, read further to learn more about these and understand why we experience this condition in the first place.
Why Do You Experience Muscle Pain After Exercise?
The temporary tension or pain you feel after working out is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Usually, this happens within 12 to 24 hours post-workout, then peaks within 24 to 72 hours. Your muscles should be sore-free after a few days.
But why does this happen? We trigger DOMS by doing a new, more intense than usual, or highly eccentric workout.
It can also happen to people who suddenly become active after not exercising for a long time.
These activities create small tears in the muscle fibres, causing inflammation and pain.
The body uses these sensations as signals to start repairing the injured site. And the good news is that recovered muscles typically become better and stronger.
So, in a way, DOMS in small doses is not that bad.
Note, however, that you don’t have to feel sore to know you had a good workout. Also, too much DOMS or chronic inflammation can lead to other diseases.
How Can You Relieve Muscle Pain After Exercise?
While DOMS is natural and, to some degree, beneficial, muscle spasms and pain are uncomfortable or even debilitating.
Moreover, it can affect your workout performance and overall productivity for a few days if you don’t do something about it.
So, here are ways to tackle DOMS and bounce back faster after each sweat session.
1. Keep Moving and Do an Active Cool Down
Don’t plop on the couch after working out. Resting immediately after exercise only makes it harder to drive muscle pain away.
Do some light exercises and gentle stretching to cool down instead. These can help normalise your heart rate, stimulate blood flow and quicken recovery.
Try walking, jogging, swimming or pedalling your bike at a comfortable pace. Also, check out this list of other cool-down activities you can do post-workout.
2. Massage Sore Body Parts
Research in 2017 shows that getting a massage can alleviate DOMS and boost muscle performance, especially 48 hours after an intense workout.
So, the next time you feel muscle pain after exercise, give your sore areas a self-massage.
Apply oil or lotion on your hands and gently knead the arms, shoulders, butt, thighs or calves. Getting a massage appointment with a therapist is a good idea, too.
A 2015 study notes that foam rolling increases circulation, allowing nutrients and oxygen to reach and heal the injured area faster.
In turn, it can reduce DOMS and improve your range of motion.
If it’s your first time using a foam roller, use a softer one to apply a more comfortable pressure level. Also, check out these foam roller exercises you can do for your upper and lower body.
As for massage guns, fewer studies link their efficacy to post-workout muscle soreness.
However, these devices simulate conventional massage and deliver rapid vibrations, making massage guns equally effective for treating DOMS.
3. Apply Hot and Cold Treatment
Subjecting the body or its parts to extreme temperatures is another way to soothe muscle pain after exercise.
That’s because high or low temperatures can alleviate swelling or inflammation during DOMS. And several studies proved the efficacy of hot and cold therapy.
For instance, in 2016, researchers concluded that full-body cold water immersion helps manage muscle soreness.
Specifically, an immersion time of 11 to 15 minutes at 11 to 15°C water temperature gave the best results.
Using a heat wrap or pad immediately after or 24 hours after exercise also reduced DOMS among the participants of a 2017 study.
Some hot and cold treatment methods may sound extreme and only suitable for athletes.
But gym-goers and regular fitness enthusiasts can also do a milder version using at-home cold and hot packs.
4. Rest and Sleep
Nothing beats a good night’s rest for muscle recovery after a workout. So, make sure you get at least 7 hours of sleep.
Sleeping does not only relax your body and replenish your energy. It also promotes the production of new proteins necessary for muscle repair.
Aside from quality sleep, give your body more time to recover by doing light or low-impact exercises the next day.
And when you do your light workouts, choose a physical activity that won’t target the same muscle groups you used during your intense routine.
Then, take a full day of rest after that because DOMS usually peaks on the second day after a very tough workout.
How Can You Prevent Muscle Pain After Exercise?
Prevention is better than cure, as they say. And it applies even when managing post-workout muscle soreness.
So, aside from knowing how to treat DOMS, follow these tips to avoid extreme discomfort and slow recovery after your intense exercises.
1. Stretch Your Body Before Working Out
Warming up 5 to 10 minutes before your training can help prevent muscle pains after your exercise.
Specifically, light movements lessen muscle damage by boosting your body temperature and making your muscles more flexible.
Some recommended warm-up exercises include 50 jumping jacks, 2 to 3 minutes of jump rope, 20 bodyweight squats, and five lunges for each leg.
2. Progress Gradually and Observe the Proper Form During Exercise
Avoid doing high-intensity workouts without proper body and muscle prep. If you’re a newbie, start with exercises that match your fitness level.
Use this period to learn how to perform the exercise correctly. Practice maintaining the correct posture throughout your beginner sessions.
Doing this makes your body more adaptable to new or advanced exercises later.
3. Eat Properly and Stay Hydrated
Nutrients and water are crucial in healing the body and reducing inflammation.
So, eat the right post-workout foods, including those rich in protein and antioxidants.
Also, add anti-inflammatory foods, like salmon, avocado and walnuts, to your diet.
Then, keep yourself hydrated during and after workouts. Remember that water plays a role in easing inflammation, flushing out wastes and delivering nutrients to the muscles.
Muscle pains after exercise should not stop you from being more physically active. All you need to do is warm up the body, eat properly, drink lots of water and start with the right exercises.
And when you experience DOMS, lessen the discomfort by cooling down, applying cold or hot treatment, massaging sore areas and getting adequate sleep.
With so many tools available for relieving post-workout aches, it’s easy to find the proper remedy for your body pain.
The best tip, however, is to keep training. Over time, muscle pain will happen less frequently as your body gets used to regular workouts.
The best time to use your massage gun depends on the benefits you want to get. For instance, use your massager pre-workout to loosen up your muscles and improve your performance. But if you’re after muscle recovery, use the massage gun after training. You can also use the device mid-workout for muscle reactivation.
Regular and vibration foam rollers are equally effective in relieving sore muscles, encouraging circulation, and improving the range of motion. But scientific research has shown that vibration therapy provides additional benefits. Specifically, it speeds up recovery, helping you stay consistent with your workout routine. The added vibration also makes the massage feel better.
3. Do topical analgesics and over-the-counter pain relievers work for DOMS?
Studies show that topical creams with menthol and arnica can help relieve pain associated with DOMS. Just make sure to follow product use instructions. As for NSAIDs, like ibuprofen and naproxen, researchers say these may ease muscle pain, but these can also stall optimum muscle growth when taken in excessive amounts.
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