Soreness, also known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is usually a by-product of exercise. It can be a signal that we’ve had a good workout or it could be a signal of injury, especially if the soreness is intense and lingers for days and days. Sometimes, it’s a result of daily tasks or work situations, like being stuck at a computer for hours or driving a long distance. It seems impossible to avoid soreness, so how do we address it without popping an over-the-counter pain reliever?
Bad Versus Good Muscle Soreness
There is a good sore and a bad sore. It’s important to recognize the difference. Here are some signs of the bad sore:
• Sudden, sharp, or acute pain
• Pain that doesn’t improve
• Pain that gets worse
Check with a doc for bad sore treatment and to make sure there isn’t an injury that needs to be addressed. Avoid exercise in the meantime until cleared.
On the contrary, a good sore is a mild ache that lets you know you worked hard. It heals within a short period of time and doesn’t hinder movement or daily activities.
There are many ways to address good muscle soreness without taking medication. Here are six suggestions:
1. Hot bath with Epsom salts
The warm bath water relieves tension and helps increase blood flow. The magnesium in the Epsom salts can aid in muscle recovery. The combination helps with soreness, topped off with an added bonus of sheer relaxation. Experts recommend a 12-15 minute soak, although some of us might linger longer. Check Epsom salt packaging for recommended amounts to add to the water.
2. Medical or Kinesiology Tape
I first learned of Kinesiology tape from my physical therapist. Following shoulder surgery, she recommended I buy a “truckload” of the tape and instructed me on how to wear it properly. She cut the tape in a “Y” shape and placed it over my shoulder and down my arm. It worked for me. I bought a large roll of tape online and cut it to the recommended length. And yes, I have since invested in a truckload!
Now, I see this type of tape in lots of stores. It comes in various colors too, with premeasured lengths already cut. An adhesive backing allows it to attach to the skin much like a bandage. The KT Tape® is what I used, although there are other brands. Their website includes videos on suggested ways to wear it to help with support while recovering from injuries and muscle aches.
Ice is often used to ease sore muscles, reduce swelling, minimize pain, and to help speed recovery. Some athletes take this to the extreme by soaking in ice baths. There are mixed opinions on this practice, but I have known some who benefitted.
Ice machines are used for patients following surgeries to reduce pain. I used one following my shoulder surgery and was able to recover without medication. We started out renting the equipment and wound up buying the whole thing. It really worked wonders, but that’s my personal opinion.
Arnica is oftentimes used to ease muscle aches. It’s a natural salve or ointment made from the flower Arnica montana and is applied topically. Some users have found it speeds healing and can even reduce bruising.
5. The Stick
The stick is a plastic device that is used to increase circulation and to relax muscles. Handles on either side allow the user to glide the stick over sore muscles and release the fascia. These sticks are commonly used with runners and other athletes. I have also used a wooden rolling pin when a stick wasn’t available or foam-rolling can do the trick as well.
Perhaps a rest day is worth passing on the pills. Taking time off allows our body to repair itself. It’s amazing how it knows what to do for muscle recovery, if we give it a chance to rest and heal. Chances are we will return from rest and recovery with newfound strength and mobility.
Inflammation and Muscle Soreness
Is inflammation always bad? While reducing inflammation is important to much of our health, there is growing information about the effectiveness of healthy inflammation on muscle mass. Some evidence indicates that anti-inflammatory meds can interfere with muscle gains. Strength training that creates muscle soreness and mild inflammation might be a factor in muscle growth. Who wants to negate those efforts? I see it as the body repairing itself and growing stronger in the process.
There are exceptions, of course. In some cases, like the older population, research indicates that the anti-inflammatories can be beneficial in maintaining muscle for some people.
And there may be times when it is recommended to take the anti-inflammatories. While it may come down to having to use medication, at least we have other options to consider for treating soreness.
Listen to Your Body
Medical advice when muscle soreness is unmanageable is the best guide and recommendation. But one of the advantages to training and exercising regularly is that we get tuned into our bodies. We can recognize the subtle signs or the big red flags that we need to address. We have to listen to our bodies and respond more astutely.