Untying Knotty Muscles
You don’t need to let lingering muscle soreness hamper your workouts
by Linda Melone, CSCS
You really pushed yourself in the gym yesterday. And while you felt great afterwards, you woke up this morning with sore muscles.
A vigorous workout, starting a new fitness program or simply trying a new exercise can leave you aching and uncomfortable. The soreness that occurs 12 to 24 hours after working out, called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), results from microscopic damage to muscle fibers.
“Symptoms may include pain, stiffness, tenderness to the touch or movement and reduced flexibility and strength,” says Kimberly Safman, MD, a physiatrist with Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, California.
Safman recommends staying well hydrated to reduce muscle soreness. She also suggests cross-training, or alternating activities to avoid overtraining muscles. If you enjoy running, for example, try biking or swimming on alternate days. For resistance training, start at a low intensity and gradually increase repetitions and weight levels.
Forego working out until soreness subsides. Safman suggests practicing light stretches unless the affected muscle seems extremely sore or swollen. (Lingering or severe pain should prompt a visit to your practitioner.)
Quadriceps stretch (front of thigh). Stand on one leg and raise the other leg off the floor, bending it behind you. Gently grab your foot with the opposite hand and bring it close to your buttock (balance on a wall or chair if needed). Hold 15 to 20 seconds, increasing the stretch as the muscle relaxes, and repeat with the other leg.
Hamstring stretch (back of thigh). Sit on the ground and bend one leg, resting the foot of the bent leg on the inside of the outstretched one. Bend forward, keeping your back straight, and reach for your toes on the outstretched leg. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds and repeat on the other leg.
You can also eat to aid recovery. Protein, such as that found in high-quality shakes, can supply the amino acids needed to repair muscle tissue. And the following foods and supplements may help speed the process.
Astaxanthin. Found in marine algae and seafood, this carotenoid fights the free radicals produced by intense exertion and reduces post-workout recovery time.
Blueberries. A 2012 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that including a little less than half a pound of blueberries in a smoothie 12 hours before and up to 48 hours after a workout significantly reduced damage to muscles. “Blueberries not only reduce the pain associated with exercise-induced muscle damage and improve recovery time, but they also aid in removing cellular waste from muscle tissue,” says Mary Bove, ND, of the Brattleboro Naturopathic Clinic in Vermont and author of The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants (McGraw-Hill).
Ginger. A study in the Journal of Pain found that exercisers who took daily ginger supplements for 11 days experienced 25% less muscle pain. “Ginger’s stimulating action on the circulation aids in bringing blood, oxygen and nutrients to the muscle tissue while removing cellular waste,” says Bove. Add a teaspoon of powdered ginger to your daily diet for a week or two prior to a strenuous event and for two days afterward to ease painful muscles.
Pycnogenol. Found in French maritime pine tree bark, Pycnogenol has shown to improve performance and endurance, and reduce muscle cramping and soreness. A clinical trial found reduced muscular pain over four to eight weeks of supplementation with Pycnogenol (The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 1/14). “This would be a supplement to use more long-term to build endurance and overall fitness performance,” says Bove. Use 100 to 150 milligrams daily to strengthen blood vessels, reduce oxidative stress and alleviate cramping.
Tart cherry juice. Marathoners who drank tart cherry juice recovered faster than those who didn’t, according to a study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science. “It’s high in flavonoids and anthocyanins, which are anti-inflammatory and powerful antioxidants that help to reduce oxidative stress leading to muscle damage, particularly during long endurance exercise,” says Bove. Try 12 ounces of juice (or 90 to 100 tart cherries) five to seven days prior to an endurance event and for up to 48 hours afterward. Tart cherry juice also reduces inflammation due to arthritis, says Amy Rothenberg, ND, of Naturopathic Health Care in Enfield, Connecticut. “In fact, drinking a four-ounce glass is like taking two ibuprofen,” she adds.
Turmeric. Studies show the spice turmeric to be a powerful post-workout pain reliever. “Using a synergistic combination of turmeric and black pepper can improve the absorption of the active compounds in turmeric,” says Bove. (Ginger and turmeric are also available in supplemental form.)
Watermelon juice. An amino acid called L-citrulline found in watermelon eased muscle soreness in athletes after 24 hours when they drank the juice an hour prior to working out, according to one study. Bove recommends drinking 500 milligrams (approximately two cups) pre- and post-exercise “to aid the detoxification of cellular waste built up during exercise and to enhance muscle performance.”
Applying herbal remedies topically can also help ease muscle soreness, especially white willow and arnica; arnica helps break up tiny clots that form in injured muscle tissue, allowing for better blood flow. Comfrey and plantain also facilitate tissue repair, while witch hazel promotes flexibility.
Muscle soreness may be a normal consequence of working out. But that doesn’t mean you should let it slow you down.