When our muscles are sore, our first instinct is often to reach for the ibuprofen tablet. However, researchers have shown that natural alternatives can help just as well soothe your minor muscle aches and possibly prevent them from happening again.
Whether you’ve overdone it at the gym, feeling stiff after sitting or standing all day, keep reading for easy soothing tips and make your body happy again.*
Stop the damage
First, cease any activity that is causing the pain. This may sound obvious, but it can be easy to forget once you get caught in the excitement of performance or competition (yes, you know who you are).
See pain as your body’s alarm system. Its main purpose is to protect your body. When the alarm goes off, it is a way of telling you to stop, because if you keep going, it will be damaged.
Know when to use ice or heat
There is lots of confusion about this. Icing and heat therapy are easy and safe options to soothe muscle soreness but only when used correctly. Use them poorly, and you could make your pain worse than it already is.
If your injury is fresh, use ice in the first 72 hours to cool down the affected area.
Once the inflammation is gone and the worst is over, switch to heat. This well help reducing symptoms of muscle stiffness or tightness.
Always stay away from heat if your muscles are red, swollen or hot.
All right, the idea of active rest may sound oxymoronic. Sure, you clearly want to stay away from any intense exercise after a brutal workout. But curling on your sofa and wait for the muscle pain to go away will not solve your problem either.
When I pulled my harmstring many years ago, I was told to stop any activity for a month and that “everything will be ok”. Well, one month later, the pain was still there and my harmstring was weaker.
The best thing you can do is to address the pain through light activity and exercises. This will speed up your recovery and help your muscle soreness.
I mean for real. When was the last time you paid attention to your breath? You’d be surprised how slow and controlled breathing can be good at reducing muscle pain.
One of my favourite technique is the “belly” or diaphragmatic breathing. First, find a relaxed position in a quiet room. Imagine having a balloon in your stomach that is inflating and deflating. Place one of your hands on your chest and the other on your belly. Try to have just the hand over your belly move as you breathe. Take a deep breath in through your nose, then slowly breathe out through your mouth (or through your nose if you prefer).
Try to practice for 10 minutes each day in the morning or before you go to bed. This will help you to relax your muscles while evacuating the stress of the day.
Adore your foam roll
If you can afford a sports massage or get your partner to treat you with a nice one then awesome. If, however, the masseuse is not an option, then it’s well worth considering the joys of foam rolling.
Foam rolling not only prepares your body for the stresses of a workout, but it also relieves aches by untying those muscle knots.
For better results, try to foam roll 2 or 3 times a week. Use the roller until you get a sensation of release but don’t force too much. The more you use it, the more comfortable it will become.
When muscles are in recovery mode they tend to tighten up and may make you feel even more sore. That’s when gentle stretching can help. Slow, controlled stretching of the area will help you to release that tension and diffuse the pain.
Start by warming up for 5 to 10 minutes with light activity to avoid any injury. Then once you are ready, stretch the affected area and hold for at least 5 seconds. Go only to the point where you feel mild tension so that it doesn’t hurt. If you feel any pain, ease off on the stretching.
Watch your diet
Nutrition is key for muscle recovery. Eat the wrong food and you could make your symptoms worse.
Stay hydrated and eat foods rich in protein, omega 3 and bioflavonoids such as beans, eggs, fish, quinoa or green leaves. These will help muscle repair while also reducing inflammation.
Avoid coffee, alcohol and any processed foods such as crisps, pies and cakes as they will increase dehydration and inflammation.
Correct your posture
This is an important one. No matter how well you exercise, stretch or massage, if you have poor posture, you will add more strain to your muscles and cause more damage to your body.
A simple way to identify whether you have poor posture is to take note of your body alignment throughout the day. Think about day-to-day activities, such as standing in line, sitting in an office chair or carrying objects.
If you find this difficult to do it yourself, speak to a personal trainer or a physiotherapist. They will help you to identify potential imbalances and provide exercises to correct your posture.
*Although this article is based on previous studies and personal experience, it is not intended to replace or substitute any medical advice. If your pain persists, or if you have a medical emergency, please see a doctor.