Muscle soreness is something we’ve all experienced at one time or another.
It’s an indication that you have increased volume or intensity far too quickly in your exercise routine; you have changed to a new workout, which sees the same muscle being used in a different way; you did not recover properly from a previous workout; or perhaps you are embarking on an exercise regime after years of being idle.
Whatever the reason, it can affect anyone, from the elite athlete to the regular gym-goer and gardener. Even couch potatoes are not spared as they can get soreness from sitting in the same position for hours.
When you put your muscles under a lot of stress, small microscopic tears occur within the muscles, and they respond by getting sore.
This soreness is called delayed onset muscle soreness and strikes within 24 hours of exercise.
A little soreness or discomfort means the muscle has been stressed, but if the muscle is exercised too much, it can become very sore to move and touch. In severe cases, the muscle may be damaged to the point that it starts to develop permanent damage.
It’s not always easy to bounce back quickly from soreness, but there are several remedies you can try.
In university, I learnt the wonders of a hot-cold shower. As unbearable as the cold might be (especially in winter), I can vouch that this therapy works.
Start by taking a warm shower, then switch to cold water for about 20 to 30 seconds. The goose pimples will pop out and you might shiver for a while, but bear with it.
Change to hot water for about 10 to 20 seconds and keep alternating cold-hot for a few rounds until the body adapts to the temperature changes.
This method increases blood flow and helps to shuttle inflammation out of muscle. It’s amazing how perky you feel once you step out of the bathroom.
You can also soak in a hot bath filled with Epsom salts, or if the pain is isolated, apply heat directly to the spot that’s giving you trouble.
Salts, besides being anti-inflammatory, have gentle muscle-relaxing properties.
Foam rollers and golf balls come highly recommended to increase blood flow to sore muscles, but you have to do the work and apply pressure yourself. It can be uncomfortable, so I’d rather opt for an easier method.
There are some studies that show light activity can help ease soreness.
If you’ve been brutally working out, try walking the next day as a recovery workout.
It should be akin to an extended warm-up, but make sure blood is circulating to specific muscle groups, especially the ones that are sore.
Or find a pool and jump in. You don’t have to swim laps. Just walking in water is enough as water has plenty of soothing properties.
If the pool is heated, it’s even more therapeutic as warm temperatures can increase blood flow to sore muscles big time.
Another study by researchers at the University of Georgia in the United States revealed that taking caffeine – about the equivalent of two cups of coffee – helped reduce muscle soreness in women after a strenuous workout.
It works by blocking adenosine, a chemical released by your body in response to injury. However, overdosing on caffeine can cause muscle spasms, so be careful not to indulge too much in your java.
After an intense workout, always stretch. Limbering relaxes and lengthens tight muscles that have been pushed to extreme contractions when carrying out an activity. For example, marathon runners and triathletes work the same muscles for a long duration, so it’s not uncommon for these muscles (usually the quadriceps or calves) to tighten and lethargy to set in post-event.
As age creeps up, recovery also takes longer. Five years ago, I could do eight-hour dance intensives daily without much soreness.
Now, I brisk-walk at least six kilometres everyday, but if I add another hour of Zumba or high intensity interval training to that, I’ll be heading to the massage therapist the next day.
In fact, whenever I dial my therapist’s number, she immediately knows what I’ve been up to, and after a round of chiding, she’ll proceed to work on my battered body.
A deep tissue massage (some outlets call this a sports massage) is designed to relieve severe tension in the muscle and the connective tissue, and unlike Swedish massage (one of my favourites!), it focuses on the muscles located below the surface of the top muscles.
Pressure is applied to both the superficial and deep layers of muscles, fascia, and other connective tissue structures. These sessions are not intended to be relaxing, so expect some “ouch” moments as the therapist works through your sore points.
Afterwards, you might feel a little beaten up, but deep tissue massages are effective in restoring mobility and softening or eliminating the knots. I often end up with a fever for a day, but fast forward another day, and I’m hopping like an ageing bunny!
I don’t advocate taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for muscle soreness unless you’re really in pain.
While they may make you feel better, they’ll also halt your body’s production of a group of lipid compounds called prostaglandins, which research shows help muscles heal.
Over-the-counter painkillers such as acetaminophen, can help temporarily curb pain without preventing muscles from repairing themselves.
Do whatever you need to reduce the soreness, and if nothing works, wait it out until the ache subsides. It shouldn’t last more than 72 hours.
Revathi Murugappan is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance, but longs for some bulk and flesh in the right places. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.