We’ve all been there—yesterday you felt accomplished as you pushed yourself to finish that daunting hike or started a new workout routine. But today your muscles are angry, and they let you know with every movement. These post-workout sore muscles have nothing to do with lactic acid, despite what you may have heard. The real cause is called delayed onset muscle soreness, and it’s a normal part of pushing your body past what it’s used to. As admirable as that may be, it’s (literally) a pain—so here are some ways to cope with muscle soreness due to the microscopic muscle damage exercise can cause.
Soak in Epsom Salts
The magnesium sulfate in these salts works to comfort sore muscles. Take advantage of this natural muscle relaxer by pouring a cup or so into your bath and soaking until the water is lukewarm. The magnesium and salt will actually reduce swelling by helping to pull excess fluid out of your aching muscles. A similar remedy involves spraying magnesium oil onto the affected areas.
Drink Tart Cherry Juice
Before or after working out, down a glass of tart cherry juice, or blend it into a smoothie. The antioxidant compounds in the cherries help reduce inflammation to keep you feeling fresh. Bonus—it’ll help keep you hydrated and replenish the fluids you lose during a workout.
Apply Hot or Cool Compresses
This is one solution that won’t require a trip to the store. A simple warm shower or an ice pack applied for 20 minutes to the area that hurts can give you some quick relief. Dr. Joseph Bosco of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons explained, “A hot bath will provide overall relaxation and mild pain relief, but icing actually prevents further muscle damage and speeds healing.”
Stretch Your Muscles
Yes, it’s counterintuitive to keep putting sore muscles to work. But stretching can relieve stiffness or tension in aching muscles. As a side note, new research indicates stretching before a workout doesn’t do as much to prevent muscle soreness as we used to think. Experts now recommend a quick warm-up before a workout instead.
Get Enough Rest
While you’re asleep, your body gets busy repairing hurt muscles with human growth hormone. Make sure you’re giving your body enough time asleep to heal. While the specific amount of sleep that’s best varies by individual, the National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours a night for most adults.
Use Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers
This isn’t a tactic you can use too frequently—taking pain relievers too often can prevent muscles from healing on their own. But if you experience occasional sore muscles, it’s fine to take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as Aspirin, Ibuprofen, or Aleve, to calm aching muscles.
Take the Gradual Approach
Instead of treating muscle pain, you can prevent it from occurring by easing into a new exercise type or intensity. Sore muscles come from working out more than you’re used to or exercising muscles you haven’t exercised much lately. Slowly amping up your routine will give your muscles time to adjust.
Muscle aches that result from working out can be frustrating, but remember—you earned that pain by pushing yourself. And the good news is that the discomfort you’re experiencing actually makes it less likely you’ll have muscle aches from the same activity in the near future. Unless your symptoms make it hard for you to exercise, you can even keep working out while you have muscle soreness. So apply a few of these tips, and get back out there.