How to Help Reduce Muscle Soreness

Summer can be hard on your lifestyle- kids out of school, vacations, weekend BBQ’s and pool parties. Often times, it is a slow decline for me into eating what I want and not exercising. Which, in turns, has me feeling less than wonderful, both in general and about myself. So, how to start back?

For anybody who has worked out and then slacked off or even stopped, the idea of starting back can be daunting. Starting over??! Ugh nooooo. I am currently in this phase, by the way. We had 2 weeks of vacation with 2.5 days home in between. The first was in the Outer Banks and there was no gym closer than an hour away. We did get to do 2 crossfit workout with my cousins who drove down with some weights and equipment, that was fun! And then the second trip was to NorCal for a wedding, so the first half of the week and the weekend were occupied with those festivities. So, here I am, struggling to hit percentages in my weightlifting and struggling to breathe in my workouts (which normally I wouldn’t do but I promised Ursula we would do Beach Brawl).

Everything sucks. So, what can you do? Embrace the suck. Yup. Accept the penance for your actions (or in this case, inactions) and struggle through. Decrease your weights, start at a slower pace, accept that your body is not in the same shape as before. Essentially, don’t let your ego get the best of you. Make a realistic goal for each workout, each day. It could be as simple as to not stop moving- don’t stop and breathe for 20 seconds in between sets. Or break up your reps early and often but count to three and then right back to it. On the days you don’t go to the gym do a set of pushups, squats, and situps. Even if it is 10, 20, 30. Something small where you move each day.

If you are struggling to even start back (the first step is the hardest) then contact one of your gym buddies and set up a workout date. Like the front page of this website days, the first step is on you. Your health and your fitness are your priority, not anybody else’s. But if you reach out, so many people would be happy to help! When I was struggling with a bad bout of depression I had an amazing friend who would drive out of her way to pick me up to go workout. Had I not been open and honest that I needed help, she wouldn’t have known. She was more than happy to help me out when I needed it.

Ok, you made it through the door for that first workout back……and are now dreading stairs, the toilet, walking, sitting down the next two days. Here are a few things to help reduce that DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and make life more enoyable.

1) Foam Rolling– Also called SMR (self myofascial release- myo meaning muscle and fascia the connective tissue that surrounds your muscles) has been shown in numerous studies to help reduce soreness if performed directly after the workout. It can also help you get a little looser before your next workout if you are tight and stiff!

2) Cryotherapy– There are two means: cold plunge and whole body cryotherapy (WBC). In one, you submerse as much of your body as you can into a tub of frigid water, in the second you stand in a tank or room that has been super cooled usually with liquid nitrogen. I have done the tub one. Once. Once was enough. Both work, although there are some studies that say cold water immersion works better than WBC, possibly due to the added pressure of the water on muscles. Frontiers in Physiology goes into detail what WBC does; if you enjoy reading such things (if your’e a dork like I am) then click here. Keep in mind WBC is NOT FDA approved to treat anything, and that studies show 30 treatments are needed to make a physiological change. I recommend dumping a thing of ice into your tub at home if this is your treatment of choice.

3) Hot Bath– This can be at home, in a hot tub, whatever you like. Moist heat works better than dry, so choose the steam room over the sauna. It does have to be hot, and you do have to soak for a while for it to be therapeutic—think 45min to an hour. While there is no evidence that Epsom Salts will help reduce soreness, I enjoy them thoroughly and they cannot hurt. Plus they smell good and make your skin silky soft. There is debate as to whether heat works better than cold for DMOS; both work equally well at preventing muscle breakdown, however. And since I hate being cold, I will take my hot bath, music, and glass of wine over an ice bath any day!

4) Whole Body Vibration Therapy– I know, this sounds weird. My chiro’s office, Allied Chiropractic, has one, and I have seen a few modern gyms that have a similar machine in them. While it does reduce DOMS, it  does not help muscle recovery at all.

5) DHA supplementation- A lot of people supplement with fish oil, which should contain a good amount of both DHA and EPA (you can read more about it here). If however, you are vegan or do not want to take fish oil, DHA can be sourced from algae or seaweed and studies show can significantly reduce DOMS.

Ooops, you forgot to do a SINGLE one of these and now you’re hurting. Sitting on the toilet brings tears to your eyes and lets not even talk about steps. While most treatments are only effective directly after your workout, there are still a few things you can do, even if acupuncture isn’t one of them. They won’t make your soreness go away, but they can help shorten the duration and maybe make you a little less sore. Every bit helps when you can’t bend your knees!

1) Massage– I know, touching your fingertip to your quad feels like a jackhammer, what do you mean I want you to massage the area?? Light massage, yes. Maybe after a hot bath (and a lot of wine), use a heavy cream or an oil and lightly rub the areas that are sore. Or ask a friend, child, or significant other to GENTLY help you out. Usually, the longer you do this the more pressure can be applied. I also like tiger balm, just the smell makes me feel better.

2) PNF Stretching– DOMS usually comes with a lot of muscle stiffness. Working out can help reduce some of the stiffness but it can be difficult to get into a good position or to really warm up due to the pain. Contract/relax stretching has been shown to be a great warm up and recovery tool.

While ginger, curcumin, pomegranate juice, polyphenols, and a host of other things are touted to help, it is up to you to find what works for your body. We are all different, with individual chemistries. Some people are more prone to DOMS than others and may want to try a variety of methods to help reduce their soreness.


Works Cited: Pub Med

THE EFFECTS OF SELF-MYOFASCIAL RELEASE USING A FOAM ROLL OR ROLLER MASSAGER ON JOINT RANGE OF MOTION, MUSCLE RECOVERY, AND PERFORMANCE: A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW., Whole-Body Cryotherapy in Athletes: From Therapy to Stimulation. An Updated Review of the LiteratureCold Water Mediates Greater Reductions in Limb Blood Flow than Whole Body CryotherapyRecovery From Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage: Cold-Water Immersion Versus Whole-BodyCryotherapy., The Effect of Post-Exercise Cryotherapy on Recovery Characteristics: A Systematic Review and Meta-AnalysisMoist heat or dry heat for delayed onset muscle sorenessMechanisms and efficacy of heat and cold therapies for musculoskeletal injuryCold Vs. Heat After Exercise-Is There a Clear Winner for Muscle SorenessEffects of whole-body vibration after eccentric exercise on muscle soreness and muscle strength recoveryThe comparison of cold-water immersion and cold air therapy on maximal cycling performance and recovery markers following strength exercisesEffects of Short-Term Docosahexaenoic Acid Supplementation on Markers of Inflammation after Eccentric Strength Exercise in Women

Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC): A “Cool” Trend that Lacks Evidence, Poses Risks

Recommended Posts