Chances are you spend several hours a day hunched over a screen—no judgment, we're right there with you. And, to compensate for being sedentary, you might go extra hard working out. Add stress and poor sleep hygiene, and you've got a cocktail guaranteed to make your muscles tighten up. At the end of the day, you're left with aches and pains that take a toll on your overall wellbeing, impairing your ability to feel comfortable in your body.
Relieving muscle soreness is not only a must to reboot your mood, it's also something you can take charge of yourself, restoring a sense of control over your body. While it would certainly be nice to have the means to have a massage therapist rub away every little muscle ache that crops up, that's likely not realistic or feasible. Luckily, we consulted four wellness experts who gave us great at-home alternatives and preventative strategies.
So, read on for the 16 best tips to get rid of sore muscles while helping you unwind, tap into your zen, and ultimately, find some sweet relief.
Meet the Expert
- Mona Dan, LAc, is an herbalist, acupuncturist, expert in Chinese Traditional Medicine, and founder of Vie Healing.
- Nancy Richer is a ballerina and founder of the Richer Movement, concierge ballet-based training.
One of the most essential things you can do to get rid of sore muscles is stay hydrated. Not only will this help lubricate the joints, but proper hydration will also speed up recovery help calm inflammation. "I like to make my own electrolyte beverages during the day with a splash of pink salt a squeeze of lemon," says Richer. "I aim for drinking half my body weight in ounces of water after that."
Try a Split Workout Routine
If you're exercising regularly, it's important to use a routine that allows for sufficient recovery time between sweat sessions. "You need to give your muscles time to recover between workouts, so ideally, to have them working at an optimal capacity, we want to wait two to three days before working the same muscle group," says Fried. “If you’re still finding you’re going into every workout feeling sore, it could be a sign you are not taking proper steps for recovery. This could mean you're neglecting stretching, not getting adequate nutrition, or overtraining."
Use a Foam Roller for Myofascial Release
Foam rolling, which is considered a type of self-myofascial release, has been shown to aid recovery from intense exercise reduce delayed onset muscle soreness. When massage is not an option, foam rolling after a workout can provide a viable substitute for breaking up adhesions reducing pain in fatigued muscles. “It can help reduce tightness in muscles, increase your flexibility, prevent injury,” notes Fried. “After each workout, set aside 10 to 15 [minutes] to stretch roll out your muscles using a foam roller. I generally suggest that you program it into your workout so you don’t neglect it."
Rolling out just a few times a week can make a difference in opening up your muscles. And, feel free to roll out every day. "You want to roll slowly, pausing when you hit a tender spot breathing for a few seconds as you hold apply pressure to the sore spot," explains Fried.
Soak in a Warm Bath
"A bath is my favorite way to unwind after a long day of training," says Richer. "I usually put two cups of Epsom salt in." Warm water will help dissolve the Epsom salts, which release magnesium, a mineral that can be absorbed through your skin. Magnesium helps your muscles relax. Sounds perfect after a hard workout.
One of the best ways to alleviate sore muscles is by increasing blood circulation through acupressure. But you don't need to go to the spa to reap the benefits of this healing modality—in fact, you can practice this healing art on yourself. "Chinese Medicine looks at sore muscles as a result of blood energy stuck in areas of the body," explains Dan. “Learning gua sha cupping techniques at home is also very beneficial."
Incorporate acupressure techniques into your post-shower rubdown. “Apply a two-finger grip below the area squeeze until you have a feeling of a 'good hurt,'" explains Dan. "Do not get to the point of bad pain. Squeeze for 20 seconds release, then go to the area above the pain hold again for 20 seconds."
Once you've worked through the pressure points, be sure to follow with gentle massage. "You should feel a level of relaxation because of the focused blood flow,” says Dan.
Rub Your Feet
Not only do your feet contain thousands of nerve endings, they are made up of 52 bones, one quarter of all the bones in your body. The muscles tendons in your feet serve as connective tissue to your limbs, when your feet are achy sore, so is the rest of your body.
A foot rub can help focus realignment, but more than that, it's something you can do for yourself that feels divine.
Try Gentle Stretching
Richer emphasizes the importance of a good stretch to bookend your workout. "Generally, you want to do stretches that are dynamic at the beginning of your workout save the sustained stretching for the end of your workout when your muscles are warm."
Fried agrees. “Think of stretching after a workout as kickstarting your recovery process. Stretching increases your flexibility helps reduce injury,” she notes. “Likewise, including a dynamic warmup prior to exercising can help reduce chances of injury.”
Give Your Body a Break
“When it comes to following an exercise routine, rest days are just as important as your workout days,” notes Fried. “Remember that exercise, especially high-intensity exercise, is demanding on the body. Your body needs time to recover your muscles need to rest in order to repair grow stronger.” Even if you’re slated to do a workout, sometimes you may need an extra rest day or two if your body still feels tired from a previous workout, or if you have a niggle or pain. It’s always better to err on the side of caution take extra rest over pushing through potentially exacerbating an injury.
Reduce Inflammation With Ice
The application of ice, or cold water immersion baths, which is also known as cryotherapy, is frequently used with exercise and rehab to reduce pain and swelling, and promote recovery. Research indicates that ice can effectively speed up the recovery process after strenuous workouts, helping the body bounce back and take on the next training session. For the best results, apply ice or soak in an ice bath immediately after the cool down.
If your muscles are already sore, you might have better luck applying heat rather than ice. "Heat helps move blood, whereas cold constricts the area of blood flow," says Dan. "Blood itself brings all the healing chemicals to the area to relieve pain." She adds that at first, heat may make the area hurt more, but after a few minutes, you should feel a release.
Use OTC Creams and Gels
Topical products can offer heating properties to tense muscles, often contain camphor, a warming analgesic anesthetic used to relieve pain. If you apply them post-bath, wait until your skin cools to avoid irritation.
Cool Down After Workouts
A proper cool down after a workout gives your body a chance to flush the metabolic byproducts out of your muscles provide enough oxygen nutrients to the exercised muscles to recover. Aim for at least 5-10 minutes of easy exercise, like light jogging or walking, followed by some gentle stretching.
Don’t Push Yourself Too Hard
Even if you’re chasing big goals, you need to listen to your body respect your limits—your body can only handle so many burpees or hill sprints in one session. “Remember that when it comes to exercise, it’s often about quality over quantity. Workouts should be challenging, but not every workout needs to crush you,” says Fried. “Exercise is incredibly demanding on our bodies; too much can lead to overtraining burnout.”
Use the Proper Technique
Fried says it’s wise to abide by the adage “Work smarter, not harder.” This involves not only having a smart training program, but also using proper form technique. “Often times, it’s not about pushing yourself harder, but about ensuring you’re using correct form technique so you can continue to get strong see progress without hurting yourself,” notes Fried. Executing a movement with proper form also ensures the exercise is effective.
Try Compression Gear
Compression gear, especially compression socks, tights, lower-extremity clothing, can help reduce inflammation aid circulation of metabolic byproducts back to the heart. Such gear can be beneficial after power exercises, like sprinting, jump squats, and heavy lifting, as well as endurance-based activities like marathon training.
Add CBD to Your Routine
Cannabidiol (CBD) skincare tinctures are not only on-trend, they're a blessing for immediate pain relief. “CBD's impact on pain has to do with its role in one of our body’s key functional systems: the Endocannabinoid System, or simply ECS,” says Dawn. “This system is responsible for keeping our body in a steady state. It helps regulate our sleep, mood, pain, appetite, inflammation, memory, reproduction, more. When we consume CBD, we are helping the ECS work its wonders.”
Adding CBD to your wellness routine can ease muscular tension in a pinch. “I’ve used CBD for pain when I feel stressed my neck shoulder muscles are tense sore to speed my recovery process,” says Dawn.
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Hettchen, M., Glöckler, K., von Stengel, S., Piechele, A., Lötzerich, H., Kohl, M., & Kemmler, W. (2019). Effects of Compression Tights on Recovery Parameters after Exercise Induced Muscle Damage: A Randomized Controlled Crossover Study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2019, 5698460.