Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS)—soreness that creeps in a day or two after a hard workout—is a double-edged sword. On one hand, tender muscles can be the sign of a workout well done; on the other, aching your way through recovery can be an indicator of dysfunction or too much stress on your system.
The truth is, soreness doesn’t have to be the inevitable side effect of intense exercise. Efficient warm-ups, hydration, environment, and natural remedies can have a powerful impact on the human body. Here are eight ways to fight (and prevent) post-workout pain the natural way.
1. Have a dedicated warm-up.
Workouts that call for overexertion, like high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and CrossFit, can often leave you aching. But it’s not so much the workout itself that’s to blame, but rather it’s the body you’re bringing to that workout, says Brian Bradley, Fitness Director for Elev8d Fitness, the new 8-minute home workout program from the experts at Sonima. If you bring a misaligned, stiff body to fitness, you could be unknowingly welcoming increased muscle soreness and strain.
Fortunately, a little prep work pays off. Just a simple 8-minute workout that brings your body through its full range of motion and aligns your major joints can dramatically decrease soreness. Dynamic movements wake up your deep, core muscles and help correct your posture so that you move more efficiently during the rest of your workout. “And you’ll get so much more out of your actual workout because you’ll be able to stand more erect, where your lung tissue and diaphragm can function correctly, feeding your body more oxygen,” says Bradley.
2. Fill up on H20.
Soaking yourself in an ice bath can constrict blood vessels and halt inflammation, thus delaying muscle soreness associated with exercise. But simply drinking water can provide relief, too. “Many times, people get muscle soreness and a general inflammatory response from being dehydrated,” says Janet Zand, a leading practitioner of natural medicine and Sonima’s naturopathic medical advisor. Research even demonstrates that being dehydrated during a workout can exacerbate DOMS.
If you’re sweating a lot or feeling thirsty throughout the day, skip the coffee and sip some pure H20, says Zand. The average person needs about 12 cups a day, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). But that number is higher if you’re active. Also, it’s best to drink small amounts of water over a period of time, as too much at once can disrupt your stomach.
3. Massage with Ayurvedic oils.
In Ayurvedic medicine, muscular pain or discomfort is seen as an aggravation of vata energy, which behaves like the wind, says Jayagopal Parla, M.D., a professor of Ayurvedic medicine at the American University of Complementary Medicine in Beverly Hills. When you move your body to the extent that it’s stressed and depleted, that deficiency can be filled by vata, leaving a dryness in the muscles, manifesting as achiness or soreness, he says. Massaging the body with an oil such as Mahanarayana Thailam before or exercise can prevent inflammation and keep vata from reaching abnormal states, he says.
Related: What Ayurveda Says About Exercise
4. Try arnica.
This potent flower has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that soothe sore muscles. One small study of runners found that people who applied topical arnica to their muscles after a tough workout reported less pain and muscle tenderness 72 hours after exercise. Apply it topically or take the dissolving supplement under the tongue every hour for two to three hours, says Zand.
5. Soak in a peppermint and rosemary oil bath.
Epsom salts are a well-known sore-muscle solution, but there are other bath rituals worth adopting, too. Zand favors anti-inflammatory peppermint oil. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy agrees that the oil can be beneficial for muscle aches and pains. Add it to your bath water for a rejuvenating (and fragrant) soak.
6. Experiment with CBD oil.
Cannabidiol (CBD)—one of the cannabinoids found in marijuana (but not the chemical that’s responsible for the drug’s high)—is the latest pain reliever du jour. And research, including a recent review from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, confirms that cannabinoids can indeed be potent pain relievers.
“For many people, CBD oil works very nicely in relieving sore muscles,” says Zand. As for now, the data is still playing catch-up with the array of products on the market, but some preliminary research does suggest even topical CBD could be beneficial for pain.
7. Find the right herbal concoction.
Certain herbs and spices can reduce muscle soreness and tenderness, says Parla. Turmeric, cumin, coriander, ginger, and dill seeds are known to increase blood and lymph flow to the muscles, he says. Add these to a meal or steep with tea to sip throughout the day. Parla also suggests Vidarikanda or Kapikachhu, Ayurvedic plant powders to mix into a nut milk for a post-workout drink. This can work to pacify vata and prevent muscle soreness, he says.
8. Take a dip in the ocean.
You’ve probably heard someone preach the powers of salt water after a long vacation. There might be something to it, says Zand. “The ocean is replete with all sorts of minerals such as magnesium and iodine and it’s also typically cold, which can be anti-inflammatory,” says Zand. Consider it nature’s (cooler) Epsom salts bath.
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