Muscle pain is an expected side effect of training. But when does your pain go from routine to restrictive?
What Is Normal Muscle Pain?
Sore muscles are the result of microdamage, which are tiny tears in the muscle fibers and connective tissues as a result of strain. If you're trying a new exercises or upping the intensity, you're more likely to experience muscle soreness. This pain can take anywhere between 12 and 36 hours to develop, so it's important to be patient and fully assess your pain before training again. How do you know if it's something more that normal?
A serious muscle injury won't heal as quickly as routine muscle soreness, which usually gets better in a few days. Muscle injury is also generally sharper and will also lead to restricted movement. If the area is stiff, very swollen and limits your ability to function as you normally would -- training or not -- you should seek the advice of a medical professional to avoid doing further damage.
Dealing With a Muscle Injury
If you do sustain a muscle injury, properly taking care of it is key. There are different ways to help your muscle recover depending on how serious the injury is.
For mild, or standard muscle soreness:
- Enjoy fresh watermelon, which provides potassium (an electrolyte) and citrulline (an amino acid) that both support muscle recovery.
- Apply a topical cream, gel or balm that contains anti-inflammatory and analgesic (painkilling) ingredients like menthol, arnica, camphor, aloe vera or essential oils like lavender and eucalyptus.
- Gently massage the area using your hands, a foam roller or some warming massage oil.
For a more serious muscle injury:
- Ice the area for 20 to 30 minutes and then take a break for the same amount of time.
- During the break from icing, you can apply heat to the same spot and then continue alternating between the two.
- Elevate the injured area to reduce swelling and encourage proper blood flow.
- Avoid straining the area as much as possible.
- Using wraps or tape can also help stabilize the area to promote healing.
No matter how serious the injury, the most important thing to do is know when you need to lay off your training and let your muscle heal. If you have a serious muscle injury, working with a trainer and/or physical therapist can help you get back to your routine safely.
Ways to Help Prevent Sore Muscles
While you can't prevent all muscle soreness after working out, especially when you change up your routine (which you should do regularly), but there are some simple ways you can support muscle recovery that can reduce discomfort later on. Try these suggestions:
- Add a glutamine supplement to your regimen. Glutamine is an amino acid that helps repair muscle tears and remove ammonia and other waste products from the body.
- Stretch for five to 10 minutes before and after your workout. Dynamic stretches (moving) should be done before training and static stretches done after.
- Eat a balanced meal before and after exercising. Make sure it contains plenty of protein.
- Drink a glass of tart cherry juice, which has natural anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water before, during and after training.
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