Like many of you, I'm trying to get in shape for summer. That means waking up early to try and squeeze in a workout in hopes of squeezing into last year's bathing suit. The only negative -- aside from the forbidden desserts and earlier bedtime -- is the muscle soreness. While also a sign of a job well done, it means I'm limping around the office like a duck trying out a new set of legs.
Muscle soreness can be the reason you skip tomorrow's workout -- and sometimes you should. But if you want relief from the pain so it doesn't keep you from sticking to your plan, what's the best natural treatment? I wanted to know.
What causes sore muscles?
When you change your exercise routine, you're basically catching your muscles off guard. If you switch from yoga to running, for example, your muscles aren't used to that type of movement and need to adjust. The result are tiny tears in the muscle fibers and connective tissues called mircodamage. They usually take eight to 12 hours to gradually set in, which is the reason getting out of bed the next morning can be an unpleasant surprise.
The good news? Your body does adapt. Your muscles eventually adjust to the new movements as you continue to train your body. Continuing one workout consistently (same length of time and same activity) will prevent you from waking up with sore muscles forever. Change it, and you're back at the beginning.
That being said, there are ways you can help relieve the pain and stiffness to help you get through your day and continue conditioning your muscles. Topical creams, gels and balms are available for this type of pain, as opposed to a typical pain pill. Here's some ingredients to look out for:
Probably the most prevalent ingredient, menthol is a compound found within peppermint. True to the source, menthol has a minty aroma and a cooling effect. For this reason, menthol is often listed as an analgesic, or painkiller/pain reliever.
When applied topically, these oils have anti-inflammatory as well as analgesic properties. Some of the most commonly included oils are myrrh, lavender, hemp, eucalyptus, avocado and grapeseed. Essential oils are also helpful for aromatherapy, helping to calm and relieve tension or stress.
This analgesic is produced by distilling the bark of the camphor tree. Camphor works to relieve pain by increasing blood flow to painful, swollen muscles, causing "counterirritation." Camphor also stimulates the nerve endings in those areas as a topical treatment.
We've all used aloe vera for a sunburn, but you don't have to wait for summer to use it. The gel of the aloe vera plant helps soothe sore muscles with its cooling and anti-inflammatory effects.
When shopping for a natural topical pain reliever, look for one without aspirin or steroids. Most can be used up to four times daily, just be sure to follow instructions carefully.
Aside from topical creams, there are other ways to ease muscle pain without medication:
Applying gentle pressure can help relieve pain and promote blood flow. Just don't press too hard. You can also seek out a licensed massage therapist.
Apply an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables to the area. Wrap it first in a thin towel or cloth. You can leave it on for about 20 to 30 minutes and repeat after a break. This will help reduce any swelling as well as reducing pain and works best when done right after the activity.
After you've applied ice, you can switch to the heat, which feels soothing as well. Applying heat helps promote proper circulation and allows more blood to flow to the affected area.
Always be sure to stretch before and after exercise and take your time doing it. Stretching helps release any tension in the muscles from the exercise, can prevent soreness and keep you from locking up your sore muscles.
When exercising, remember to drink plenty of water and make sure you're eating a balanced diet with plenty of protein. If you continue to experience severe pain after about a week of treatment, consult with your doctor to make sure you haven't injured yourself more seriously. Dial back the intensity of your workouts to help the muscles heal if pain persists.
I am on day four of my new workout plan and it does seem like my muscles are adjusting to help me finish out the week strong. How will I feel next week after two days off? Only time will tell.