Especially when you’re out of practice with using certain muscles, it is difficult to avoid soreness and cramps. If you move a heavy piece of furniture, play a sport you haven’t tried in a while, or overexert yourself in any other way, your muscle fibers will break down, hence the pain experienced. Those who exercise regularly and increase the intensity of their workout in small increments will be less prone to pain. When the fibers tear, the muscles also swell slightly, and the breakdown of your muscles creates a strain, leaving you feeling stiff and sore. Having a sore muscle can also have nothing to do with exercise, you can sleep or sit in the wrong position, or it can be caused by tension from emotional stress.
Cramps are another cause of muscle pain, occurring when an acute spasm takes place. Muscle cramps can result from any interference in the muscles’ process of contracting and relaxing. The severe discomfort and pain of a cramp is caused by the a tight contraction inhibiting blood flow to the area. Being aware of how your muscles contract and relax is key in preventing future cramps. A muscle contracts when the brain sends a signal telling it to do so, communicating through the nerves to the muscle.
As the muscle receives the signal, your body’s minerals are at work: potassium outside the muscle moves, and sodium and calcium inside the muscle move, allowing the signal to travel down the muscle and make it contract. As you can imagine, muscles need an sufficient amount of such minerals so they can contract and relax normally, along with oxygen, glucose, and fatty acids.
Spasms can occur when too many waste products are stored in the muscle, and it has exhausted its energy reserve, or glycogen. Like a cramp, blood flow is restricted and the area experiences pain.
How to Prevent & Treat Muscle Aches at Home
If you experience a muscle cramp while exercising, it is better to stop in your tracks before you potentially injure your muscle. Attempting to push yourself through the cramp can elevate your risk of injury and requiring medical assistance. After the cramp has passed, it is also recommended to walk around (not exercise) for a few minutes to regulate the blood flow to your muscle again.
After overworking your muscles, applying cold (instead of heat) to the affected area is suggested. The reduced temperature helps prevent soreness by constricting the blood vessels, bringing down both blood flow and swelling. Taking a cold shower or cold bath, or going in a pool (if chilly enough) directly afterwards can lower the trauma to the muscles. The colder the better, according to several professional runners who overexert themselves regularly. Cold compresses (bag of ice) also work if the idea of being fully submerged in coldness makes you uneasy. Place ice where needed for 20-30 minute sessions every hour for 24 to 73 hours after you feel sore.
Additionally, using hot or cold post-sport ointments is usually not helpful, despite their marketing. They only create the sensation of warm or cool on your skin, and do not in any way affect the muscles. They are also full of chemicals, the only reason they work, and can cause serious burns when used with hot pads (which should be avoided for muscle aches regardless).
Swim It Out
Taking a swim when you have sore muscles is one of the greatest ways to reduce pain. Being submerged in cold already reduces swelling, and moving in water is a helpful way to gently stretch muscles so that pain can be alleviated.
Being consistent and gradual in your exercising will help prevent cramps, soreness and spasms by allowing your muscles to get used to various activities. Staying active on a regular basis will result in a smoother transition to the more strenuous tasks. Make sure you practice and pay attention to the muscle group you will need to use for those tasks in order to avoid injury or pain.
Eat and Drink
Simple enough? Feeding your body nutrients, especially those it responds to best when being active, and drinking enough water can greatly contribute to a less sore set of muscles. Even when you aren’t active, making sure you get enough water provides oxygen which your muscles need to thrive and relax. Eating vitamin and mineral-rich foods is also recommended so that your body has what is requires (sodium, calcium, potassium) to complete its normal contract-relax process. Eating protein after overworking muscles due to activity also helps reduce soreness.
Stress is a large contributor to muscle, joint and ligament tension, primarily in the neck, shoulders, and head. Other muscle groups can also be affected by stress, depending on how your body responds to tension. Try a few deep breaths, meditation, or check throughout the day to see what you’re clenching in order to target each spot of tension and relax it consciously. Here are some other ideas for reducing stress.
Sleeping not long enough or in an uncomfortable position can also cause muscle strain, stiffness and cramping. Also, try to rest during the day if your pain persists.
A stretch before and after your activity will always reduce pain and inflammation, and lower your risk of injury. When you’re already feeling sore, you should gently stretch your muscles, taking a light walk for 20 minutes to warm up.
Warming up and stretching before you exercise is the best way to allow your muscles to adapt to the activity you put them through. Even if you’re getting ready to lift a heavy object, taking a short walk or easy bike ride, and stretching the appropriate muscles to get the job done will greatly help reduce soreness and potential harm.
1. Discovery Health. 24 Home Remedies for Muscle Pain.
2. Native Remedies. Body Aches and Pains.
3. Image: tropicalbeachservices.com