There’s a special sense of satisfaction to post-workout soreness. When the gentle burn follows you home, it feels like a job well done. Ironically, getting rid of the soreness feels even better. With the right tools and methods, you’ll be able to move a little easier during your rest days.
Holly Beach, MD, is a primary care sports medicine specialist at Banner – University Medicine Orthopedics Clinic in Tucson, Arizona. We asked her about a few of the most popular tools that athletes use to soothe and recover after a tough day of exercise.
Why am I so sore?
Dr. Beach started with a bit of guidance for lifelong athletes and anyone just getting started. “Some soreness is fine. But the best way to reduce muscle ache is to ease into a new exercise program and gradually increase intensity and duration. You need to give your muscles time to adapt.” If you find yourself limping the day after a workout or having difficulty going about your day as normal, take it as a sign that you are doing too much. Wait until you’re no longer sore and ease up on your next workout.
What at-home tools are best?
When you’re really sore, you are looking for relief wherever you can find it. But it’s possible to do too much and using the tools improperly can actually do damage. Dr. Beach offered tips for a few of the more popular methods and tools.
It’s a classic for a reason. Proper use of a foam roller can address soreness in muscles and connective tissues. These are a popular solution for back pain and leg pain. Runners use foam rollers all the time to lessen the symptoms of stress to the iliotibial (IT) band.
Theragun and other percussive massage tools
If the foam roller is the classic, then the Theragun is the rookie. These tools have hit the scene with flashy endorsements and wild claims. Dr. Beach warned that “percussive therapy can be helpful in massaging muscles but can also lead to further injury if used too often or in the setting of a more serious injury.” Like any machine, it’s easy to go overboard and the Theragun is no different. Use it in moderation and stop if it hurts.
Small massage balls are a popular option for runners with soreness on the soles of their feet and can be used for other hard to reach areas as well. Dr. Beach also mentioned metal massage balls that can be frozen as a great way to address inflammation at the same time. Be careful not to put too much weight on the massage balls, no matter the material.
These come in all shapes and sizes. Often, they are shaped like a large cane, with rounded tips that can be used to reach muscles on your back and shoulders. Other variations are straight, with rollers that can be used on your legs.
Ice, massage and movement
This isn’t specific to one particular tool, but Dr. Beach maintained that this method has the best evidence. When you are feeling sore, start by cooling the area, then apply whichever massage method you like best and continue light exercise/movement as tolerated. Healthy soreness should last no more than a few days.
Of course, some popular methods can be dangerous. Dr. Beach warned that massaging recliners and other similar machines can lead to injury from excessive and inaccurate massage. She also explained that at-home muscle stimulators (TENS or stim) should only be used with permission from your physician and after proper instruction.
If you are introducing new exercise routines and can’t escape your soreness, speak with a doctor to make sure you are working within the current limits of your fitness. Diversifying your workout is a great idea, but your body may be saying something if you are overly fatigued or sore.
Read more articles about fitness, exercise and recovery with helpful insights from experts like Dr. Beach.