It's unavoidable, exercise as an important part of life has the effect of building strong bones and muscles but with the downside of causing acute soreness felt about 12 to 72 hours afterward. From a physiological standpoint, soreness is the result of tearing muscle fibers often from lifting heavy weights, fatigue from intentional repetitive movements or the use of new muscles. We know the fundamental ways to immediately treat a cut or scrape as it presents a clear and present danger but with muscle tears below the surface, we can easily dismiss or prolong attentiveness to a solution. When your hand grazes a rocky surface or sharp edge of an envelope, the appearance of blood followed by a stinging pain alerts your brain to a situation in need of mending or some type of management to alleviate the problem.
Feeling sore after an intense workout can be a bittersweet sensation, knowing that you’ve pushed your body to its limits can be extremely gratifying. Not only as a physical test but the amount of willpower and determination it takes to endure rigorous training along with the added challenge of maintaining specific diet parameters can be a conditioning exercise beneficial to mental stamina. With as much attention to the fuel/input and exertion of energy/output, recovery/maintenance can often be overlooked in some cases until it’s too late creating a larger more complex problem. We consider recovery techniques valuable resources worthy of incorporation to any active lifestyle. As an important piece of the puzzle to ensure the longevity and evolution of a fitness regimen, we hope to make it easily accessible, starting with the top 5 ways to soothe a sore muscle.
Breath, Stretch, Shake…let it go
There are numerous benefits related to consistent stretching including improved posture, range of motion and flexibility. The improved mobility not only improves your fitness game but improves blood flow to muscles which reduces soreness and tension. Without regular stretching, muscles remain contracted, short and tight making them weak and unable to extend as far as needed. Stretching comes in many forms, the most common being dynamic and static. Dynamic stretches are movements that shake your body up to promote blood flow into the muscles and generally performed as a warm up prior to exercise. Arm circles, high knees or walking kicks are some examples. Whereas static stretches are typically done at the end of a workout. They are positions held in a comfortable but challenging position between 30-60 seconds. Seated forward folds, standing pyramid pose, or half splits are a few of our favorites showing some TLC to the hamstrings.
Other forms of stretching include:
Passive – Maintain a relaxed position while a prop or partner places external pressure to intensify the stretching for you. For example, lying down and using a strap to hold your leg up at 90-degree angle.
Active – Notably found in most yoga flows, this type of stretch involves activating or contracting one muscle group to assist in extending and lengthening the opposing target muscle.
And with anything, there’s a right and wrong way to do them. It’s important to stay mindful of how each movement feels to ensure the right areas are being addressed and to achieve the best results. While feeling tension is to be expected during a stretch, it is not normal to feel pain. If something starts to hurt, just stop. Don’t put yourself at risk of further injury. Also, try to resist bouncing into a stretch in order to push it further. This could actually end up being counterproductive, contributing to even more muscle tightness. Read more about healthy mobility practices in this guide from The Mayo Clinic.
Sometimes holding your breath during an uncomfortable moment is just an automatic response. Admittedly, my first instinct is to hold my breath during a challenging pose or movement. Unfortunately, this can actually do more harm than good as it prevents oxygen from reaching the muscles and builds more lactic acid, a product that imposes added stress. Specialists suggest mindfully exhaling during periods of exertion, in a workout or while you hold a stretch. Breathing out sends oxygen to your muscle, giving it the necessary fuel to accommodate a deeper stretch. Then inhale as you come out of the stretch in preparation for your next move. Consciously breathing in and out of stretch also strengthens the mind/body connection, an intuition that reduces stress and anxiety but can also help to avoid further injury.
Because cold temperature therapy helps to reduce lactic acid, the major culprit of muscle tenderness, it is often considered a major component of the relief and recovery process. Cold compresses are known to reduce swelling and inflammation by constricting blood flow to a certain area. Easily accessible at home with the classic bag of frozen vegetables, ice packs or full-on ice baths, which you can read more about here. Professional techniques used in sports medicine include cryotherapy, where dry cold penetrates the skin, temporarily minimizing blood flow to a certain region of the body. As the targeted area returns to a neutral temperature, newly oxygenated blood rushes to heal the affected muscles.
On the other end of the temperature spectrum, heat therapy offers many benefits to ease and soothe soreness by stimulating blood flow throughout the muscles. This is why sitting in a sauna for 20-30 minutes also has been known to aid the body in releasing toxins, keeping blood circulating and healing the muscles. A heating pad or hot towel applied to the painful area can help temporarily relieve pain and discomfort. Alternatively, muscle relaxation can also be found soaking in a hot bath of floating in a sensory deprivation tank at body temperature. The addition of Epsom salt to any bath helps to reduce inflammation and swelling by the effects of magnesium absorption. Designed after and inspired by floating, Unplugged Essentials Recovery line of hemp soaks, infuses Epsom salt with added essential oils and water-soluble hemp for extra soothing, therapeutic benefits.
Coalescing the two, contrast therapy utilizes both hot and cold sensations simulating blood vessel expansion and contraction to encourage improved blood circulation. A widely used method involves immersing the body in alternating hot and cold baths for a brief period of time but repeating the cycle several times. You’ll find that the practice is becoming increasingly adopted and offered by healing spas or wellness facilities. However, therapeutic contrasting can be reimagined at home when access is limited to such services or in absence proper equipment. For example, alternating hot and cold compresses on a muscle can mimic the effects of blood vessel expansion and contraction to relieve the targeted area of pain or soreness.
We get by…with a little help from our friends
When movement and/or external stimulation are not an option, topical creams that provide a cool or hot feeling for an extended period of time can come to your rescue as you whittle down your to do list. Specific ingredients such as essentials oils found in creams and ointments can act as major catalysts to insinuate a soothing muscular response. For example, the cooling sensation from menthol found in peppermint and eucalyptus naturally tend to soothe a painful area. While warm sensations can be felt from ingredients such as cayenne pepper, clove and ginger. Our forthcoming King Muscle Balm and Queen Body Butter will provide the opportunity to update and fortify your arsenal of recovery methods. These new additions incorporate time honored essential oil ingredients with the added benefit of bespoke cannabinoid formulations to react with your endocannabinoid pain receptors, creating a more robust and effective relieving experience. Stay tuned for release dates! And check out one of our previous blogs to learn more about phytocannabinoids.
Aside from topical treatments, vitamins and minerals can also play integral roles on bodily functions and recovery. Studies indicate magnesium is a major contributor to loosening cramped muscles, enabling them to receive the oxygen they need. A regimen of other antioxidant and anti-inflammatory supplements such as fish oil, Omega-3, curcumin and CoQ10, can also enhance physical recovery methods, along with supporting the health of other functions such as cardiovascular system. Complex B vitamins assist the body in metabolizing proteins and amino acids, both important to facilitate the mending of muscle tears.
In various training atmospheres, you may have noticed a tubular piece of foam roaming around. These tools come in many shapes, sizes and densities to accommodate different needs or sensitivities. Foam rolling in general is a form of self-myofascial release, or sustained pressure gently applied to connective tissue surrounding muscles. The steady stroking and kneading movements help to relieve stress and tension while lengthening these connective tissues known as fascia. Similarly, trigger point therapy uses smaller apparatus to apply pressure to a concentrated area of taut, contracted muscles known as knots. Leaving these knots unattended could cause surrounding muscles to bear the extra load in turn causing more strain and potentially more complex and painful injuries. Massage or percussion guns offer more intense bursts of vibrational energy working over large areas of muscles to break up dense muscle tissues, increasing blood flow to ease pain and soreness. Used on your own or with a partner, it can be an effective tool for quick relief.
Replay and replenish
It’s important to maintain a healthy recovery regimen to get ahead of any serious damage, rather than playing from behind. Although studies have shown that pre/post workout stretches don’t necessarily pose any results on preventing muscle soreness, the movements can provide relief and help keep you more mobile, improving range of motion. Preserve a steady stretching routine and keep an eye on your technique in the mirror or with a partner to make sure you are not overextending, causing more injury. Save time at the beginning to warm up and time at the end for stretching. Carve out a day of recovery, it could even include active recovery such as walking or a light bike ride, yoga or Tai Chi. Finally, although it is last, proper hydration is certainly not least and may be one of the simplest methods of soothing a sore muscle. If it hasn’t been implemented already, what are you waiting for? Dehydration pulls fluid out of your tissues, causing aches and pains. Drinking water before, during and after strenuous activities ensures the continuous flushing of wastes and toxins from your body.
These practices are merely suggestions. Please ensure your safety by consulting with a medical professional if pain, discomfort or other troubling symptoms continue or worsen. To help simplify, we narrowed the scope to only the top 5 ways to soothe a sore muscle but these are truly only a few of the wide-ranging methods of muscle recovery in existence. We hope to learn more by hearing about your favorite methods, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.