You finally get your A into G and pound the pavement only to wake up the next day with stiff joints and tender glutes. Seems unfair huh?
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We know after an intense workout that pain will inevitably follow – we’re ok with it because it means it’s working but it doesn’t mean it’s not bloody painful in the meantime!
Read on to find out why you’re experiencing sore muscles and tension post-workout and how you can treat the symptoms and get back to top form fast.
What causes sore muscles and tension after a workout?
Muscle pain is a common symptom after vigorous exercise, upping the intensity of a workout, returning to a sport you haven’t done in a while or resuming the gym following an extended break.
“Aching muscles after a workout, otherwise known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), are due to micro-tears in your muscles that occur when you put stress on them,” Brad Schoenfeld, director of the Human Performance Lab at CUNY Lehman College tells Runner’s World.
Typically, muscle soreness kicks in from 24 – 48 hours after exercise with the pain peaking at around 72 hours as your body turns up the heat on repairing and rebuilding your torn muscle fibres. Minor aches and pressure are completely normal, however, really severe soreness isn’t something you want to be making a habit of.
What are effective ways of treating sore muscles and tension after a workout?
Healing takes time. And there really isn’t a better substitute (sorry!). But there are some measures you can take to ease the pain and, if you’re lucky, help speed the healing process along.
Turns out foam rolling isn’t just a fad, after all. Not only does foam rolling behave like a targeted massage for your muscles, relieving tension and stress, but it also has been scientifically-proven to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness. Furthermore, research has shown that incorporating 10-15 minute foam rolling sessions into your day can actually improve your performance in subsequent workouts. Add foam rolling to your warm up, cool down, and rest day repertoire if you’re looking to keep muscle aches at bay.
However tempting it may seem, the worst thing you can do is succumb to the couch. Low-intensity recovery-focused workouts such as walk with your partner, light jogging, swimming or yoga should be scheduled in and around your workout regime to stay on top of sore muscles and tension. “It’s thought that increased blood flow and nutrients to the muscles does, in fact, speed up the repair process, which in turn should reduce DOMS,” exercise physiologist Joel Seedman, Ph.D., owner of Advanced Human Performance in Atlanta, Georgia, tells SELF.
Hydration is important at all times to help our bodies to perform as they should. Keeping yourself hydrated throughout your recovery is a no-brainer to nip muscle soreness in the bud. “When muscles break down, they release waste products and toxins that need to be filtered out of the body (like hydrogen ions and an enzyme called creatine kinase)”, explains Seedman. “These waste products (among others) are associated with increased soreness.”
Tart cherries are rich in anthocyanins which are colourful compounds that are known to reduce inflammation. If you’re looking to improve muscle recovery and function, research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports suggests working in tart cherries or their juice (red raspberries work too) into your regular, nutrient-rich diet a few times a week. Training for a marathon? Top your dose to once-daily. In the study, marathoners that consumed tart cherries in the week leading up to, the day of, and for 48 hours after their big race had significantly less muscles soreness.
Take a break
If you do all the right things a little muscle pain won’t do any harm – but that being said, if you push yourself too hard you can risk more serious injury. Listen to what your body is telling you and don’t feel guilty having a day off because having a rest day is just as important as working out.
Other methods of treating sore muscles
Hot and cold therapy is a fairly known practice for professional athletes to aid their recovery, however, as far as studies go, the jury is still out on whether these actually provide the pain relief we think they do. According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, ice-water immersions were ineffective at reducing DOMs in a group of 40 exercisers. The research also showed that static stretching — whether performed before or after exercise — doesn’t reduce DOMS either. Kind of mind-blowing, right?
That being said, a warm bath feels good – however fleeting that relief may be might be. It’s possible that a happy mind may lead to happy muscles. So long as you’re not doing anything that poses a risk to your health, you have to do what works for you.
How can you prevent sore muscles and tension from occurring after a workout?
Caffeine has analgesic (pain-killing properties) which can reduce muscle soreness and fatigue post-workout. A study published in the Journal of Pain (yes, that’s a thing) cited a 48% drop in DOMS for exercisers who consumed two cups of coffee before their workout.
Master the Massage
Spa weekend, anyone? Post-workout massages have been proven to significantly reduce pain. In fact, regular massages can increase your body’s ability to fight of DOMS. Muscles that have been massaged contain more blood vessels than non-massaged muscles which has been linked with improved recovery. In a 2014 study, immediate massage was more effective at promoting tissue regeneration and reducing fibrosis compared to massage delayed 48 hours after exercise.
Working in an office environment can increase your risk of muscle strain so if you’re confined to a desk throughout the day, ensure you keep moving, getting up and stretching every hour.
Protein plays a critical role in building – and maintaining – muscle. If you’re finding that you’re not bouncing back from your workouts regularly, it might be worth monitoring your protein intake and making adjustments accordingly like an iron supplement.
Did you know supplementation can create healthy joints and boost bone health? Below are our recommendations for supplements to reduce the prevalence of muscle pain in the future.