If you work out regularly or even if you're just a beginner, muscle soreness is something you are likely to experience every now and then. There are some ways to reduce its intensity or eliminate it altogether. Moderate exercise – even though it seems counterintuitive – can help you get rid of it.
"It increases blood flow to the damaged muscles, enabling them to heal faster," explains physiotherapist Alexander Srokovskyi. He recommends walks, swimming and cycling, for instance.
You shouldn't exercise the affected muscle groups harder than that, though, so wait before your next workout and don't do any stretching either. Otherwise, your relief efforts will be for nought and your athletic performance will drop, warns Srokovskyi, adding you may even strain muscles or tear muscle fibres.
Special caution is necessary if a muscle hurts where it's attached to a bone, he says, as this is a sure sign it's been overstressed. But if you feel pain when you press the muscle "belly," where the muscle is widest, then it's a mild case of post-workout soreness and nothing to worry about.
Helpful in relaxing inflamed muscles are warm compresses, hot baths and sauna sessions, which at the same time stimulate metabolism. Ice baths and alternating hot and cold showers are metabolically stimulating as well.
Massages aren't a good idea if your muscles ache. Kneading them too much or too strongly will additionally irritate the muscle fibres and could worsen the microtears in them caused by the workout. But if you insist on some kind of massage, then very gently only, Srokovskyi advises.
What can help, however, is lymphatic drainage, he points out. A gentle form of massage, it involves manipulating specific areas of your body to help move lymph – a pale liquid that maintains tissues' fluid balance and removes bacteria from them – to an area with working lymph vessels.
As Srokovskyi describes it, the microscopic damage to muscle fibres, resulting in soreness, leads to a build-up of fluid. So a "decongestive" therapy is beneficial in accelerating the healing process.
While there are certainly things worse than post-workout muscle soreness, which may even be oddly satisfying – "no pain, no gain," after all – the question arises: Can it be avoided?
The answer is yes. Srokovskyi says the key is keeping your workouts regular and not overdoing it. If you increase their intensity, for example, the amount of weight lifted or the number of repetitions, you should do so in small increments. It's also important to warm up properly before you start.
Another tip: Make sure your diet is rich in magnesium. Foods high in minerals include sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts, dates, spinach, oat flakes and Parmesan cheese.