Muscle soreness and injuries are, of course, never part of the plan. Being active, though, can sometimes lead to less than ideal body aches. Knowing how to treat your body for a speedy recovery is paramount. Unfortunately, when we find ourselves a bit achy after a stellar performance at the Tuesday night kickboxing class, it can be confusing to figure out the right way to alleviate discomfort. Figuring out when ice is your best bet or how to apply heat for healing, though, isn’t always, well, so hot and cold. Should you use moist heat or dry heat? Ice on for how long and for how many days?
Muscle soreness can stem from too much exercise, repeated use of a single muscle group, long periods of standing or sitting at a desk or even from routine, daily activities. It is important to recognize the difference between being sore and being in pain. A fabulous new leg workout may leave us with sore thighs or glutes; but, in most cases, this means we finally broke the cycle and pushed past our comfort zone. Your local pharmacist can be a viable resource when it comes to recommending different treatment options for muscle soreness. However, it is essential to visit a doctor with any medical issue concerning pain – as only he or she has the knowledge and credentials to diagnose and treat injuries as we progress through the 3 stages of injury: acute inflammation, repair, and remodeling.
If your muscles are aching a bit, you may consider both cold and heat approaches. The key is the timing of application. The Mayo Clinic advises cold to be the first approach to relief. The chilly temperature helps reduce inflammation and swelling while taking the edge off any discomfort or pain you may be feeling. It is advised to apply ice, a cold pack, or bag of frozen veggies (hey, cold is cold…) for roughly 20 minutes, every 4 to 6 hours for the first 48 hours. Consider wrapping the cold compression in a paper towel or bag so as not to irritate the skin.
As the pain and inflammation decreases (usually after 2 or 3 days), a heated compress will not only feel good, but also may help relax the sore muscles. It is important to resist the urge to apply a hot compress to an injury right away. Yes, the heat is soothing, but it may actually wind up doing more harm than good. The heat increases circulation to the area of application, therby amplifying the swelling. Your local drug store should carry hot water bottles or heat lamps that can target the muscle directly. You can also run a nice warm bath to relax and unwind while simultaneously providing soreness relief.
One final tip: If a new Yoga class or strength training routine leaves you feeling the effects a day or two afterwards, don’t let that excuse you from the activity for the next week. It is not uncommon to feel this initial soreness from a new-found fitness endeavor. Giving it a second go, though, actually creates a helpful adaptation effect, meaning that your muscles will feel less sore and recover faster as the body begins to adapt to these new movements. That being said, if you fear an injury resulted from that new yoga pose, of course see a doctor.