Most of us have suffered from sore, achy muscles. Especially as we push ourselves to be more active. When we exercise, microscopic tears occur within the muscles being stressed. Pain is the body’s way of saying, “enough!” so we don’t overdo and cause damage. As much as we need to keep stretching and mobilizing, hours later we often pay the price. Here are some tips on how to get relief:
1. Take a hot bath:
This is my number one treatment! I take at least two baths a day, sometimes three, if it’s a particularly hard day. Often this is the only place where I feel any relief. Soaking and floating in a hot tub takes the pressure off tired muscles and gives them a chance to relax and loosen up. In fact, this is how I start my day. Only after a long hot, soothing soak can I even begin my morning stretches. I know it’s sounds crazy backwards, but it works. It’s not as hard to climb out of the bathtub as it was to climb in. Now, my body welcomes stretching and starting the day.
2. Use ice:
Muscles hurt because of swelling- a completely normal part of the muscle-repair process after it’s been stimulated. Reduce the initial soreness by applying an ice pack to the painful area. It won’t help to completely get rid of the pain, but it can make the pain more manageable. I often take a short break at work to sit on an ice pack while I finish charting patient notes. This can give me the relief I need to finish a difficult day. If you’re looking for a unique way to use ice, do what athletes do and jump into an ice bath. Almost every college and pro sports team locker room has an ice bath. Athletes are strongly encouraged to jump in after a tough workout for a 10- minute soak. Cold baths have long been known to significantly reduce muscle soreness.
3. Use heat:
The more circulation a muscle receives, the faster they recover. Heating pads applied to ailing muscles can do wonders. Over- the-counter topical creams like “Icy Hot” and “Tiger Balm” will get the blood flowing to sore muscles and loosen them up. That helps them to work better. Another way to use the advantages of both ice and heat is to get into a hot shower. Ice the sore muscle, then under the hot water move the area through its range of motion. This will stimulate circulation, reduce the inflammation and bring in needed nutrients.
There’s nothing quite like a good massage to break up spasms and put us into relaxation mode. Be careful if it’s too aggressive- it can actually worsen the pain. Any self help device will work. Or, if possible, offer to swap time for a massage with another ailing friend. When recalcitrant to home remedies, physical therapy can be a great resource to break up the spasms and aid relief. I’ve even used the mall massage services on occasion and been surprised at how much a 20 minute intervention helped.
Sometimes the best medicine is to keep on moving. Don’t overdo it, but continue to stretch and mobilize so you don’t lose all you’ve gained. If necessary, cut the intensity back by 50% until you feel up to speed. A gentle workout can help sore muscles recover by getting the blood flowing faster.
6. Pamper yourself:
Remember Monday’s post on hugs? Well, pampering, hugging, cuddling, and massage- all forms of close human contact, cause your body to release oxytocin. This allows the body to turn stored fat into the energy needed to repair muscles faster. It also stabilizes blood sugar levels and reduces pain by decreasing inflammation. All this from a little cuddling!
7. Don’t stop exercising:
Sometimes muscles are sore from use, not overuse, and stopping will just make it worse. That’s why I recommend starting slow, even if it’s just a few minutes every day. Or, try several minutes throughout the day. Your muscles may complain a little initially, but as they warm up and get moving, the soreness should improve.
Stay hydrated throughout your workout to prevent cramping and decrease inflammation after exercise. Water is still the best choice, but adding a sports drink to replace electrolytes and sodium may be beneficial if you sweat excessively, or work out in hot weather. Just keep it low-calorie to avoid drinking all the calories you worked so hard to burn.
9. Exercise safely:
Make sure you’re trained in using the exercise equipment you choose, and keep proper form throughout your program. Less is better. Trying to lift higher weights before you’re ready can harm the very muscles you’re trying to improve. For most of us, we’re just trying to keep our bodies strong and agile. Light weights are all that’s required to stress the muscles and keep them from atrophying. Even a water bottle will do the trick.
10. Reach for anti-inflammatory friendly fruits:
According to research from Harvard University, bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapples, has anti-inflammatory benefits comparable to those of anti-inflammatory medications. Tart cherries or tart cherry juice also had hidden anti-inflammatory benefits . If you’re not a pineapple or tart cherry enthusiast, bromelain can be purchased in health stores.
Regardless of the solution, the aim is to keep active and stay strong. Hopefully one or any combination of the above ideas will keep your muscles warm and ready to move. There’s no question the more you do, the more you’ll be capable of doing. The body doesn’t like inactivity.
I often tell patients the story of the frozen finger. Years ago, a patient came in with his finger in a splint. He had hurt it playing basketball. He was sure keeping it splinted would not only help it heal, but be protective. When he finally took it off 2 weeks later, he’d lost most of the movement. Every time he tried to flex and make a fist, it felt like it was breaking. Not because he had damaged it -he admitted it had worked fine before he applied his own home remedy (and the Xray was normal). It had “frozen” from lack of use! Through a lot of hard work, patience, and supervised therapy, he regained full function.
The old adage “use it, or lose it” couldn’t be more true when it comes to our muscles.