Stop, Drop or Roll? The Right Way to Relieve Sore Muscles After Your Workout
Speed up post-exercise recovery with these pain-alleviating tips.
So you ran a marathon. Or maybe an ultra. Or you discovered CrossFit wasn’t as easy as your roommate said. Whatever the cause of your soreness, we’ve all been there. But that’s no excuse to pull the covers back over your head until next week. Time to rise and shine, sweetheart! No matter where it hurts—or how bad—we’ve got the toolkit you need to get your butt in gear and back in the gym. These tricks of the trade will put you on the road to post-workout recovery in a hurry.
DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)
What it is: This general exercise-related pain pops up when you add a few extra lunges to your routine, or throw in some split-squats to up the ante. Two days later, walking down stairs feels like a Herculean effort. That’s DOMS, soreness that comes from increasing your workout intensity or trying a new activity, according to the American Council on Exercise.
How to treat it: Massage, stretching, cryotherapy and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) can all help. A study in the Journal of Athletic Training found that using a foam roller immediately after a strength workout can ease muscle soreness up to 48 hours later. Other research indicates that applying the natural anti-inflammatory gel arnica to sore muscles post-workout may ease the pain.
What it is: This localized pain in the knee joint often appears during or after training thanks to the constant jarring action of your foot striking a hard surface. It may be caused by too much mileage too soon (a common mistake in new runners), weak quadriceps muscles, improper form or needing a new pair of shoes for shock absorption.
How to treat it: Step one, scale back. Give your knees a chance to recover before piling on more pounding. If you’re running every day, try every other day for two weeks. If you’re doing 6 miles, pull back to 4. Step two: Place ice packs on your knees for 10 to 15 minutes after each run to reduce swelling. Also, incorporate stretches into your post-run routine to keep hamstrings and quads limber and be sure to wear supportive shoes, suggests John Hopkins Medicine. Take this advice now so that when you’re training for that marathon in a few months, you won’t be held back because your knees can’t keep up.
What it is: Life in front of a computer (or any desk job) leads to tight hip flexors—and that leads to a shortened stride when running and can compromise your form at the gym. Over time, those small changes in your body’s position will lead to hip pain.
How to treat it: In the long run, regular stretching is needed to prevent overly tight hip flexors. Immediate relief can be found by icing the area after a workout. If tightness persists more than a day later, switch to a heating pad, says the MayoClinic.org. Over-the-counter pain relievers may also help.
What it is: Also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints occur along the front of your shinbone due to microscopic tears in the connecting tissues. These tears are often the result of running higher mileage, or doing too much running before your body has a chance to adapt. Over time, this can lead to cracks in the bone itself, known as stress fractures.
How to treat it: Shin splints are a prime candidate for RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation). Ice for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, several times a day. Consider taking a few days off from running (swap in swimming or another low-impact activity), and build back slowly when you start again.
What it is: Lack of ankle strength to properly support a heavy load can cause ankle swelling in weightlifters; more acute injuries like sprains can happen to runners training on an uneven surface.
How to treat it: If the pain is sharp and sudden and you can’t move your ankle or bear weight on it, see a doctor right away—it might be a fracture. A sprain (swollen and painful but still able to move) can be treated with RICE. Sometimes, ankle instability can be caused by tightness in other muscles; stretching your calves and hamstrings on a yoga mat may help, according to the American Council on Exercise.
For other ways to stay pain-free after working out, check out this guide to post-workout recovery.