Muscle soreness tends to hit hard on the days immediately after a workout, and even more so, after a new workout routine. It can be really frustrating, and uncomfortable, so, what can you do to relieve that post-workout muscle pain?

The good news is that there are several options available to treat those sore muscles after exercise, from cold and heat therapy, to Epsom salt baths. There are also measures you can take to prime your muscles before, and even during physical activity, to ensure that the pesky, post-workout pain is kept to a minimum.

In this article, we cover why muscles get sore after exercise in the first place, some tips and tricks to prevent muscle pain and/or injury, and how to relieve muscle soreness fast following a workout.

Why Do Muscles Get Sore After a Workout?

During an intense workout, microscopic tears can appear in your muscle fibers1A. The pain and sore feeling in your muscles following a workout is because of these tears, and inflammation around them.

Essentially, the stress you place on your muscles during exercise breaks down your muscle fibers, signalling your body to send help and repair the damage.

The process of muscle recovery2 involves the repair of these microscopic tears and the formation of new protein strands. As the tears are repaired, the new protein strands are stronger, which leads to ultimately bigger and stronger muscles. This is essentially the body adapting to newer, more intense physical workloads, to prevent such tears happening in the future.

How to Relieve Sore Muscles After a Workout

To an extent, pain in the muscles in the aftermath of a workout can be oddly satisfying. The feeling of sore legs after a workout, or achy chest muscles after a solid ‘chest day’ can signify that you’ve worked hard at it. Your muscles are in recovery, and they will come back even stronger.

However, severely sore muscles experienced after a workout could decrease your range of motion1B, and impact your ability to execute daily tasks. This is called delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Here are a few tips and tricks on how to get rid of soreness after working out:

Cold or Heat Therapy

Cold therapy and heat therapy are both muscle pain relief treatments that can help with post-workout aches, soreness, and even injuries.

Should I use heat or ice on muscle pain?

Cold therapy, like placing ice on the region of pain, is commonly used to numb or reduce pain and swelling.3A It does so by reducing the flow of blood to the site of injury.4

Heat therapy, meanwhile, has the opposite effect. It increases the flow of blood to the muscle and relaxes them, helping you regain your range of motion.

Using both heat and cold therapy may be helpful in reducing overall pain or muscle soreness after a workout. Research3B confirms that using “cold immediately after exercise or 24 hours later was superior to heat in reducing pain.”

Biofreeze Flexible Relief Strips provide a convenient cold therapy solution for sore muscles both during and after a workout. Made of a flexible fabric that stays in place, these strips are very comfortable to wear during and after your workout.4

Epsom Salt Baths

Health professionals also recommend Epsom salt baths as an option to treat sore muscles, as Epsom salt (also known as magnesium sulfate) plays an “evolving role in pain management5.”

The belief is that the Epsom salt, paired with heat therapy during an Epsom salt bath, may provide muscle relaxation, and may reduce pain from muscle soreness. Magnesium sulfate has been proven to reduce the need of intra- and postoperative analgesic requirements in patients undergoing surgery.6 However, it’s important to check with your healthcare provider for more information.

Massage Therapy

A study on the effects of massage therapy on delayed-onset muscle soreness found that massage effectively reduced swelling and alleviated pain from DOMS by 30%.7 However, massage did not have a significant impact on muscle recovery strength, or on range of motion.

How to care for your muscles before, during and after exercise.

Exercising safely, effectively, and correctly also involves taking the proper measures to care for your muscles before, during, and after your workout.

These measures can help prevent injury and avoid extreme muscle soreness due to delayed-onset muscle soreness.

Here are a few preventative measures to keep you relatively pain-free and on track with your workout routine:

  • Warm up and warm down: Warming up increases blood flow and oxygen delivery8 to your muscles, which ultimately allows for greater endurance and performance during your workout. Warming down can gradually lower your heart rate back to baseline at a safe rate, as well as reduce muscle soreness and the risk of post-workout injury.
  • Stay hydrated: During exercise, your body temperature increases, and your body sweats9 as a way to keep you cool. Staying hydrated during and after your workout replenishes the fluid that’s been lost through body temperature regulation. This can also help to prevent muscle pain later on.
  • Move the body: Sore muscles after a workout might put some people off being active. However, resting and not moving might “lock up” your muscles and make them feel stiff. Engaging in a low-impact post-activity such as light yoga, walking, or using a foam roller, can help combat symptoms of delayed-onset muscle soreness.10 Warming up and relaxing the muscles before a workout will also aid in sore muscle recovery.
  • Replenish with food: Proper nutrition ensures that your muscles get the fuel and nourishment they need to recover from a workout. Incorporate healthy fats, healthy protein, and fiber in your post-workout meals. Eating foods high in potassium, like bananas, is also believed to aid in muscle soreness.
  • Get enough sleep: Adequate sleep encourages protein synthesis11 (the body’s process of keeping cells functioning)and human growth hormone (hGH)12 secretion, both of which aid in muscle recovery and growth. To better care for your muscles before, during, and after your workout, ensure you get enough sleep, and practice good sleep hygiene.

Following these preventative measures listed above will ensure your post-workout pain is kept to a minimum but, remember not to push yourself too hard.

If you are concerned about any post-workout pain that doesn’t seem to improve with rest, speak to your healthcare provider to rule out more serious muscle injuries.