Muscle soreness is an embarrassing, and often painful, side effect of new or intense exercise. Relieve your pain with one of these 6 effective strategies. Sore muscles can slow down the best athletes. Here’s how to ease the pain and get back to your routine faster. Sore muscles are one of the less pleasant side effects of exercise. Depending on the type and intensity of training, muscle soreness can be barely noticeable or extremely painful.

Why do our muscles hurt in the first place?

Soreness after exercise (also called delayed soreness) indicates that muscle tissue has been damaged. When this injury, or micro-tear, occurs, your body initiates the repair process by triggering inflammation at the site of the injury. Fluid builds up in the muscles and puts extra pressure on damaged areas, leading to that familiar feeling of tightness and soreness that usually starts to show up 12 to 24 hours after training. Every time you exercise, you damage the muscles a little, but certain types of exercise are known to cause more damage and, therefore, pain. In particular, any training session that is new to you, more intense than usual, or involves a lot of eccentric movements is likely to cause more damage and soreness than other types of training.

Increasing the volume or intensity of your workout can cause muscle soreness. Here’s what to do.

In general, it is the eccentric contractions, or elongation of the muscle, which are at the origin of the pain. Think of walking or jogging down a hill, or the pull-down motion during a bicep curl or chest press. Muscles generally suffer more damage during these types of movements than during concentric exercises (where the muscle works by shortening). Muscles are under significant stress during both types of movements, but fewer muscle fibers are recruited to perform eccentric contractions compared to concentric contractions.

Some muscle soreness is good, but it shouldn’t last too long

Torn and inflamed muscles look bad. But some degree of inflammation can be an important signal for muscle growth and repair. If you help your muscles recover from damage, they’ll likely grow bigger and stronger. It is therefore not necessary to prevent the inflammation from occurring, but rather to control it as quickly as possible. And you probably want the pain to go away so you can start moving and living pain free again.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to be sore after a workout for it to be effective. Pain equals damage, and damage is okay in small doses, but you don’t have to create pain-induced damage every time you train. You don’t have to be sore to know you’ve had a good workout.

Does warming up reduce post-workout muscle soreness?

You may have heard that stretching can help prevent injuries and soreness. But stretching your muscles before exercising is probably not a good idea. A Cochrane review of 12 studies looking at the influence of stretching before or after a workout on subsequent muscle soreness found that stretching had no effect on muscle soreness within a week after training. There is some evidence to suggest that a dynamic warm-up immediately before a workout could reduce muscle soreness up to two days later, but the reduction in soreness seen in research is very small.

6 things you can do during and after your workout to ease muscle soreness

Although there are no instant fixes, your muscles need time to heal, there are some strategies you can use to ease the pain and aid recovery. Here’s what you need to know.

1. During and after your workout: Stay hydrated

It may seem obvious, but staying hydrated is an important part of muscle recovery. Water keeps fluids flowing through your system, which reduces inflammation, removes waste, and brings nutrients to your muscles. The problem is that it can be difficult to know if and when you’re dehydrated, because you’ll likely reach dehydration before you feel thirsty. The color of your urine provides a good indication: A medium or dark yellow indicates dehydration, while a light yellow means you are hydrated. Just be aware that taking vitamin supplements can make your urine darker than usual. Who will be affected, and by what types of vitamin supplements? It’s hard to say. Everyone is different.

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 fluids that accumulate in the muscle after exercise. A November 2015 analysis published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that foam rolling can help increase range of motion and reduce DOMS. Foam rolling, along with other types of massage, increases circulation to bring more nutrients and oxygen to the affected area, which helps reduce swelling and tenderness.

If you want to try a foam roller, choose a softer version to start with. The firmer foam rollers allow you to apply more pressure, but they can be intense if you’re not used to them. Lacrosse balls can also be handy tools to have on hand, as they’re great for smoothing out hard-to-reach areas, like the glutes, lower back, calves, and illiotibial (IT) bands.

Massage guns (also known as “percussive massage therapy” or “vibration therapy”) are another popular tool for promoting post-workout muscle recovery. Percussion self-massage devices work similarly to massage in general. These handheld devices produce rapid vibrations that, when placed on your muscles, can help promote blood circulation in that area. Many massage guns come with various shapes and sizes of attachments to better target muscle groups of different sizes. Few studies have looked at the effectiveness of massage guns specifically, but massage guns can combine two elements that have been backed by science: conventional massage and vibration therapy. For example, previous research has shown that both methods are equally effective in preventing DOMS.

If you want to use a massage gun post-workout, try to find an area that feels tense and lightly sweep the belly of the muscle. Add pressure if desired, but not too aggressively. Swipe three to five times over an area at a time. Be careful not to stay in one place too long or you risk irritating the muscle.

3. Eat within half an hour of an intense workout

By providing your muscles with the nutrients they need to repair and grow stronger, you can speed up the recovery process. Boost your recovery by ensuring you consume 20-40 grams (g) of protein and 20-40g of carbohydrates within 30 minutes of an intense or long workout (60 minutes or more). (A serving of Greek yogurt with a handful of berries and a tablespoon of honey is a snack option). Protein is important for the amino acids needed to rebuild your muscles, while carbs play a huge role in replenishing the fuel stores your muscles used during your workout.

But don’t stop at the post-workout snack; you won’t help your muscles recover if you’re hungry or skimp on nutritious foods the rest of the day. Prioritize meals and ensure your daily protein intake is consistent enough to ensure your tissues receive a steady stream of amino acids throughout the day. Recommendations vary, but try 1.4 to 2 g of protein per kilogram (kg) of body weight each day if you’re active, with doses evenly distributed every three to four hours. This means that if you weigh 68 kg, you will need around 95-136 g of protein per day. Fruits, vegetables and legumes are also essential for supplying your body with vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C and zinc, which promote healing.

4. Later: sleep

Sleep is essential for many reasons, but it’s also one of the most important parts of recovery after exercise. It may not seem to have an immediate effect on [les douleurs musculaires], but it can be useful for sure. According to a study in Sports Medicine, non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, for example, increases protein synthesis (the creation of new proteins), which is needed to repair damaged muscles. The post-workout phase is therefore not the time to skimp on the hours of sleep. Try to sleep at least seven hours.

5. The day after an intense training session, do light exercises

Sore muscles need a rest, but that doesn’t mean it’s best to put your feet up and spend the day on the couch. Try to move slowly by doing activities such as restorative yoga, an easy walk, swim or bike ride, or even light resistance training. The key is to avoid doing another intense workout using the same muscle groups on consecutive days. On an exertion scale of 0 to 10 (where 10 is the maximum intensity), aim for an exertion level of 3. This involves getting blood flowing to sore muscles to bring them oxygen and the nutrients needed to repair them, without further damaging muscle tissue.

6. It is best not to take NSAIDs

Although you may be tempted to take a painkiller and be done with it, by doing so you risk sacrificing key parts of the muscle rebuilding process. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin or paracetamol can ease the pain associated with body aches, but they can also prevent your muscles from growing back bigger and stronger. A small study published in the August 2017 issue of the journal Acta Physiologica found that taking the maximum dose of over-the-counter ibuprofen blocked progress during an eight-week resistance training program aimed at building muscle and strength in young adults.

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