May 20, 2019 | Abby Caviness
Getting into a consistent workout routine can be difficult when faced with muscle soreness the next day. Some may feel too sore to get to their next workout, so they skip out and mess up their schedule. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to ease and recover sore muscles, so you feel ready for your next workout. USHEALTH Group® wants to share a few of those tips so you can better reach your fitness goals.
But first, why exactly do our muscles get sore?
What Causes Sore Muscles?
There are two types of muscle soreness: Acute Muscle Soreness and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).1 Acute muscle soreness occurs during a workout and DOMS occurs after, which is what most people experience and what we will focus on in this article.
Soreness is caused by eccentric exercise, which is any exercise that causes a muscle to lengthen under tension.1 As a result, this causes damage to your muscles and connective tissues in the form of microscopic tears.2 While continuing exercise with sore muscles is good for you, it is important to make sure your muscles are recovering, because they come back stronger when they do.3 So, what are some ways to help your muscles recover from exercise they are not used to?
Making sure you are letting your muscles rest without continuing to put them under stress is important for building strong muscles. In fact, there are a few ways to help your muscles recover from the damage of strenuous exercise. These strategies include:3
- Passive recovery: complete cessation from exercise
- Active recovery: low-intensity exercise
- Cross-training: changing up activity so you focus on different muscles every workout
- Myofascial release: massages and foam rolling
- Nutritional recovery: eating foods to promote recovery
- Sleep: during sleep, the body produces most of its growth factors and hormones aiding muscle repair
There are several benefits to giving your muscles a break from exercise. For example, if you are letting your muscles rest, you will give your body the energy it needs to continue in your next workout. However, if you continue to exercise without proper rest, you can experience burnout and even injury. In addition, inadequate rest can lead to poor immune function, neurological changes, hormonal disturbances, and depression. So, if your muscles are reeling after a strenuous exercise, give them the rest they need and deserve.
While muscle soreness is a good sign of an effective workout, no one likes being too sore to complete daily activities. Besides, if you are having trouble lifting even your toothbrush, how are you going to get yourself to the gym for another workout? Taking the following extra steps will help you in the long run to not feel too sore to keep working out:4
- Drink plenty of water
Keeping hydrated is the key ingredient to relieving sore muscles. So, keep a reusable water bottle with you and sip on it throughout the day. If you do not like water, add a few lemon or lime slices for some flavor!
- Keep moving
Though you may want to lay in bed and not move, getting up and doing some light exercise could make you feel better. Try going swimming or riding your bike—both are gentle and will not add too much extra stress to your muscles.
- Apply heat
If you are still feeling sore after 48 hours, try applying heat to those areas. This increases blood flow to your muscles and ease tightness. However, you should be careful to not turn the temperature up too high. Too much heat can cause burns and further inflame the muscles.
- Get a massage
Massaging your muscles can relieve tension, boost blood flow, and increase your range of motion. However, signing up for a deep tissue massage will likely exacerbate the issue. Instead, go for a gentler massage or even try tender-point acupressure.
- Take an anti-inflammatory
As a last resort, over-the-counter medications—such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen—can help to reduce swelling and relieve pain. However, it is important to be careful not to rely too heavily on medication and create a dependency.
Another way to relieve muscle soreness lies in what you eat. When you work out, your muscles are using up your body’s glycogen storage to fuel themselves.5 After a workout, it is important to replenish your body’s glycogen to help repair and regrow your muscles. Eating the right foods after you work out can help expedite the process. For example:5
- Protein—eggs, Greek yogurt, salmon and chicken—helps repair and build muscle
- Carbs—sweet potatoes, chocolate milk, quinoa, and oatmeal—help with recovery
- Fats—avocado, nuts, nut butters and trail mix—help with recovery, in moderation
Overall, having a meal of mainly protein and carbs—a 3:1 carbs to protein ratio—after your workout can help restore your body’s glycogen storage and increase muscle protein growth. Just make sure you are eating within 45 minutes of your workout, because the body is at peak performance for converting those foods into glycogen.5 So, be more mindful of what you are eating to make sure it is fueling your body the way it needs.
As hard as it is to get out of bed and go work out when you are sore, it is important to not let the soreness get in the way of your fitness goals. In fact, working out when sore will often reduce pain and boost recovery. Just make sure the workout is not too intense, because overtraining can be harmful and even dangerous for your health.6 These risks include:
- Increased resting heart rate
- Depression or mood changes
- Increased amount of colds or other illness
- Overuse injuries
- Muscle or joint pain
- Constant fatigue
- Decreased appetite
- Worsening of athletic performance or little improvement, even after rest.
Another important thing to be aware of is the difference between injury and soreness and knowing what you are feeling. Symptoms of an injury may include:6
- Sharp pain
- Feeling uncomfortable or nauseated
- Pain that will not go away
- Tingling or numbness
- Areas of black or blue marks
- Loss of function to the injured area
If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is important to stop working out and see your doctor to diagnose the issue. In addition, make sure you are listening to your body to know when it is time to rest, and discontinue exercising until your body is fully recovered.
Any form of exercise—moderate to intense—is beneficial for your health. However, if you are not used to consistent exercise, it may be difficult to continue when you are overcome with the pain of sore muscles. Taking the necessary steps to make yourself more comfortable so you can continue to work toward your goals will be vital to your fitness journey. Just find what works for you and keep moving forward!
*This material is provided by USHEALTH Group for informational/educational purposes only and should not replace medical/clinical advice or direction from your health care provider.
- Martin-Hewings, Yella, “Why do my muscles feel sore after exercise?” MedicalNewsToday.com, published December 19, 2017, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320415.php
- Bowers, Elizabeth Shimer, “Quick Fixes for Sore Muscles,” EverydayHealth.com, last modified June 15, 2018, https://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness/quick-fixes-for-sore-muscles.aspx
- Fetters, Aleisha, “Post-workout Muscle Recover: How to Let Your Muscles Heal and Why,” EverydayHealth.com, last modified May 13, 2019, https://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness/post-workout-muscle-recovery-how-why-let-your-muscles-heal/
- Robinson, Kara Mayer, “Sore Spots: 5 Ways to Ease Post-Workout Muscles,” last modified December 17, 2015, https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/sore-muscles-after-workout
- Semeco, Arlene, “Post-Workout Nutrition: What to Eat After a Workout,” Healthline.com, published September 20, 2016, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/eat-after-workout#section2
- Chertoff, Jane, “What You Should Know About Working Out When Sore,” Healthline.com, last modified January 25, 2018, https://www.healthline.com/health/working-out-when-sore