Muscles get sore. Whether it is from overuse, under use or trauma, muscle soreness is going to happen. Muscle soreness is not something you should be concerned about typically because it’s a normal physiological response to actions that muscles do not like. Fortunately, we can reduce the frequency of muscle soreness by paying closer attention to our activities/exercise level (hint: moderation). We can also reduce the duration and intensity of muscle soreness by following a few simple steps.
- Stretch. A sore muscle contracts to help protect itself from further damage. Frequent gentle stretching (hold the stretch at least 1 minute) will help relax the muscle and reset it to it’s normal resting length.
- Ice. Cold temperature applied over the sore muscle will immediately reduce inflammation and slow the cellular metabolic activity which helps the healing response (kind of like dumping water on a fire). Please do not use heat in the early stages (first 48 hours) of muscle soreness. Studies have shown that the application of heat early on, can make the situation worse. After 48 hours, the use of heat may help, but I am not aware of any study that demonstrates superior or even similar results to the use of cold/ice.
- Exercise. Light intensity, high repetition exercise (such as biking, walking) will help the muscle recover more quickly. Inactivity prolongs muscle soreness.
- Massage. Studies have shown that massage can lesson the intensity and duration of muscle soreness, and possibly, improving the healing response. Massage is also very effective for releasing muscle spasms.
Interventions that have been demonstrated by research to be ineffective in reducing muscle soreness include; non prescription skin lotion creams (such as arnica, menthol/capsaicin/wintergreen/cannabis), kinesiotape/skin tape, acupuncture and ultrasound.