The World’s Worst Sore Muscle Advice and What to Do Instead
I work with both younger and older adults at my private practice clinic. A common complaint however especially after a physical therapy session: “I am sore!!!” Never fails.
Providing education, however, goes a long way in making these patients understand that working specific muscles to address pain, correct movement, does take a toll on muscles but it also promotes its ability and capacity to tolerate more load, allowing an individual to perform daily tasks pain-free.
Soreness can be expected when muscles work just beyond what a person does normally on an average day. The results however are worth the effort. This does reassure patients to work through the therapeutic activities knowing it is for a specific purpose.
Some good days, you’re pleased with yourself for finally painting the guest room or spending an extra half hour on the rowing machine. The next day you can barely brush your teeth because you’re sore all over. You probably have a case of delayed onset muscle soreness. This is common for weekend warriors as well. And….. we do get them a lot at our clinic.
That achy feeling is caused by microscopic tears in your muscle tissue, which lead to inflammation and discomfort. It can present itself about 1 or 2 days after engaging in strenuous activity or a task that you don’t normally do on regular days.
Though it is nothing serious, there are some things that will relieve the pain. Other things you’re better off avoiding.
Worst Advice for Treating Sore Muscles
1. Be a couch potato. “Rest, don’t do anything”, “Stop working out”, “Stop doing exercises”. Although there is merit to this, inactivity will prolong your soreness. Daily conditioning is better, doing easy exercises as per your physical therapist’s advice, or from a good personal or athletic trainer. This consistent and well-planned exercise program or routine is best for your body than popping into the gym once every three months.
2. Assume all pain is the same. Sudden pain requires a different approach. Stop what you’re doing. Sharp, sudden onset pain is an indication of a significant problem. It can indicate a torn tendon, a sprain or strain, even a fracture in more serious cases. Some patients I worked with fractured toes and ruptured Achilles tendon from doing certain exercises in Crossfit that they are not used to. On the other side of the spectrum, some older adults fracture a hip just by standing up from sitting. Get medical attention if needed for muscle strains and tears.
3. Worry about lactic acid. Experts used to believe that soreness was caused by lactic acid buildups. Research now shows that lactic acid dissolves almost instantly after exercising.
During exercise, the body uses oxygen to break down glucose for energy. When exercising intensely, there may not be enough oxygen available to complete the process. This is when a substance called lactate/lactate acid is produced. Your body can convert this lactate to energy without using oxygen.
2. Cross-train. Alternating between recreational activities or sports allows optimal muscle function. Even high-level athletes do it. Famous and renowned basketball players cross-train with soccer, even yoga! Kayaking, paddleboarding, and running target different muscles. Give your arms a day off and work your legs instead. Head for the pool instead of the jogging track.
3. Intensify workouts gradually. Start easy. You can increase repetitions from 10 to 15 reps to 20 reps as you get better. Always refer to a physical therapist, trainer, or athletic trainer for exercise strategies appropriate for your specific status and condition. Increasing your workout load by 10% or less a week is a good rule to follow. That means running 11 miles if you usually do 10.
4. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate! Dehydration weakens muscles and makes them more prone to soreness. Again, many theories are out there on how much water you need in a day. A rule of thumb, 8 glasses a day. Whether you drink a little lesser or more, your body still gets the hydration it needs. Try coconut water. Potassium-rich, with electrolytes too. Carry a water bottle with you to the gym. Sip water all day long.
5. Stretch and cool down. Stretching and cooling down makes your workout routine more efficient. Even after playing any recreational sport. Schedule about 5 to 10 minutes at the end of each workout for gentler movements and flexibility training. Bicycle slowly or walk in place. Perform a few static stretches. Move slowly and evenly. Hold each position without straining or bouncing.
6. Pamper yourself. Get a massage! You deserve it. We work hard all week long. The body knows that. It will also appreciate a winding-down time just to allow relaxation and recovery. Book a session with a sports massage specialist or watch a video about how to perform a self-massage. Check out Groupon for local deals. You’ll be surprised how many good deals you can find in your area. You can go for a session for as low as $25, and establish a rapport with a licensed massage therapist where you can go regularly. They are great at giving you deals for other services too! There are many effective techniques you can use at home or anywhere.
7. Practice visualization. Visualization and meditation can decrease pain without any harmful side effects. Sit down and imagine your breath soothing away all discomfort. There are many resources online, even videos on meditation and visualization. The point is to take time to give your body a break for healing and relaxation.
8. Try Cryotherapy. Cold treatment works with sore muscles, especially after intense activity. Cold packs, ice packs, corn syrup packs, ice massage. A point to remember, cold constricts. It causes vasoconstriction, or constriction of blood vessels. Ice works best when applied at the first sign of soreness. Protect your skin by wrapping a towel around an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables. A pillowcase also works great to really allow that coldness to reach deeper layers of the sore area.
9. Use heat. Heat, especially in chronic cases can relieve soreness, aches, and pains better than ice. It is also a matter of personal preference. Some individuals get relief better with cold, some, with heat. Try which gives you the best relief. Heat may aggravate inflammation, but it also relaxes muscles and reduces spasms. After heat, I have advised patients to also finish it off with cold, for a few minutes. Take a warm bath or apply a heat pack. Ask your doctor about ultrasound and electrical current treatments. Below is an example of a heating pad. Check Amazon for many products. (I am not an affiliate of Amazon nor any of the sellers.)
Tip: Start with a warm or hot bath. Finish it off with a cold shower for about 2-3 minutes, Works great for me after an intense tennis game with colleagues!
10. Check out a health food store. Consult your primary physician for supplements that are appropriate for your health status or other prescription medications you may be taking. Some people get positive results from certain herbs and vitamins. You may want to try vitamin E supplements or willow bark tea. Tell your doctor about any substances you use to ensure they’re suitable for you.
11. Take a pain reliever if necessary. Always consult your doctor. Many over-the-counter products provide quick relief. Aspirin and ibuprofen are often recommended because they treat both pain and inflammation. If you use pain-relieving creams, avoid tight bandages or heating pads to prevent skin irritation.
Some pain-relieving creams I use at the clinic: Biofreeze professional-grade, Sombra. There are myriads of brands you can try. Check Amazon. read the reviews. Some products I saw: Pain grenade, Arnicare, Blue Emu, Hemp Relief, Icy Hot, and others.
Regular physical activity helps you to live a longer and healthier life. You can get fit without any muscle soreness, but for occasional soreness due to over-activity, try these tips for some quick relief. As always, there’s always a physical therapist near you. They would give you good advice and directions. 🙂
Until the next issue!