Exercise causes all manner of pain. One of the most unpleasant, but least discussed, is the post-exercise soreness that comes in the days after an exercise routine, especially a new exercise routine.

While this soreness is not avoidable (your body is, after all, repairing itself after you’ve put it through strain), it can be mitigated through various post-exercise routines. With a proper rest routine that involves warming up, diet, and massage, you can keep your muscles in good shape for the next workout.

What is that Soreness?

First, a discussion of the difference between soreness and injury is necessary, as one is necessary while the other is a serious warning sign.

Delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS) usually starts within a day or two of a workout, and can be expected, especially for a new workout. Soreness often limits your mobility and makes basic tasks difficult.

By contrast, an injury comes immediately, oftentimes whenever a muscle suffers a strain mid-workout. This can come with a new workout, as well as with a constant, strenuous workout that is above your normal threshold.

If you suffer an injury, do not attempt to cure it yourself, but seek a physician, preferably a specialist in sports medicine or orthopedics. Without proper care, you could cause an injury to become far more serious.

Soreness is normal, however; DOMS comes from eccentric or lengthening contractions. As a result of these contractions, the muscles develop tiny tears, which ultimately heal over time. These tears are simply a form of your muscles adapting to a new normal. The soreness that comes with them will eventually lessen, especially as your body adapts to a new exercise regimen.

But, you will still suffer soreness, and it will likely impede your process as you begin a new routine. That’s why developing a recovery routine is vital, to help you grow accustomed to the inevitable soreness.

How Does One Lessen the Soreness

The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies to muscle soreness. Your best bet to fight soreness is to ensure that your activities and choices help to limit pain.

A varied diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can aid in preventing pain. Since these foods provide the micronutrients that your body may be lacking, which can result in greater soreness. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can also contain polyphenols, which are antioxidants that help to fight inflammation.

If your diet allows for meat consumption, consider eating fish, as the Omega-3 fatty acids from fish can aid in fighting inflammation.

Engaging your muscles throughout the day can help as well. Check in with your body throughout the day to ensure that you have proper posture, with your shoulders back and your back not slouching. Take the occasional break from your computer to walk for a moment, even if you are only getting up to deliver a message in person.

Some people use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (often an over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen or aspirin) to aid with maintenance of pain issues, including those related to exercise. This should be done with caution, as NSAIDs can indeed reduce pain, but can cause long term health deficits when used for an extended time. As with any course of drug therapy, you should strongly consider consulting with a physician prior to starting an NSAID regimen.

While exercise can itself lead to DOMS, exercising one’s muscles can also lead to those muscles getting stronger, gaining more endurance, and being able to work longer and get accustomed to the soreness.

Regardless of your choice of exercise, whether aerobic or anaerobic, for endurance or for strength, you should consider both a warm-up before exercise and cool-down after exercise. A good warm-up will prime your muscles for exercise, making them more pliable and less achy down the line.

While static stretching may seem like the logical way to start an exercise, contemporary research suggests that a more movement-heavy warm-up, involving such activities as walking, jumping jacks, and numerous light physical activities can prepare the body for a full workout.

As far as a cooldown; while contemporary studies do suggest that a cooldown offers limited DOMS prevention, a cooldown can lower your blood pressure and body temperature post-workout to help you safely return to at-rest numbers. The cooldown is the ideal time to stretch, as your muscles will be more pliable and receptive to stretching.

Other post-workout routines to consider include icing troublesome spots (being sure not to directly contact your body with ice; use a towel to mitigate the coldness enough so you won’t cause harm), applying heat some time after exercise (ice, then heat, is what trainers usually recommend), and massage. Since heat and cold are both relatively easy to achieve, this article will focus on massage.

Personal Massage Products for Home Use

While the best option would be to seek a professional to massage you, you may not have that option, especially mid-pandemic. When this is not an option, numerous manual options exist to aid with massaging troubled areas, as well as more general foam rollers to aid with larger muscles; some fitness enthusiasts will even use a humble tennis ball if no other option exists!

A less traditional, but more revolutionary option would be a massage gun. While the name may sound intimidating, the concept is simple; it’s a handheld personal massager that can target specific areas.

While a massage gun may sound intimidating at first, it’s not that terrifying, especially once you learn about the benefits of using a massage gun instead of more traditional massage methods.

Why a massage gun?

In discussing a massage gun, one would need to discuss the concept of percussion therapy. And, in discussing percussion therapy, one would need to discuss vibration therapy.

Vibration therapy sees its roots in ancient Greece, where physicians would use plucked strings around injured areas and observe them healing faster.

While scientists are still uncertain exactly why vibration therapy seems to be so effective in aiding with physical recovery, lab tests have confirmed that vibration therapy can keep bone degeneration at a minimum, can aid in maintaining muscle during long periods of inactivity.

One of the issues with vibration therapy, however, is that effective full body vibration therapy devices tend to be prohibitively expensive, costing upwards of a thousand dollars, and are not convenient to carry around.

A massage gun, by comparison, takes the concept of vibration therapy and applies it to a more portable device, roughly the shape and size of a power drill. As a result, a massage gun can be carried in a gym bag.

Because massage guns perform the same motions consistently, one does not need to worry about human error as much as with a more manual tool; when one is massaging one’s muscles, reducing the chance of human error is key in preventing serious injury.

And, because massage guns will often have customizable speeds of oscillation and pressure, you can control the level of intensity. Besides the intensity, most massage guns will also have interchangeable heads, or at least heads that can pivot in multiple directions, to allow for hard-to-reach places.

Massage guns are not technically vibration therapy, but they use similar principles, performing what is called “percussive therapy.” The head of the massage gun gently pounds an area of the body at roughly 16 to 40 hertz (that’s 16 to 40 hits per second), moving less than 16 millimeters from the skin.

This differs from vibration therapy because vibration therapy can result in some body parts becoming numb as they grow accustomed to the vibration, while percussion therapy ensures that the body part in question constantly remains engaged.

The concept of percussion therapy is still fairly new, so little scholarly research exists to fully back the benefits of the massage gun. However, positive results from athletes who have used massage guns allow for cautious optimism that the massage gun can be beneficial when incorporated into a daily routine.

And, because the general principles of vibration therapy seem to apply within percussion therapy, it appears that the massage gun is an extension of long-understood, thoroughly demonstrated massage methods.

Not a Replacement, but a Supplement

But do not assume that a massage gun replaces or reduces the need for other actions on your part to ensure you live a life that has limited physical pain. A plan to combat pain must include not just treatment in the form of massage and medications, but a prevention plan that includes exercise, diet, and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle when possible.

Nor should you consider a massage gun a replacement for a visit to an actual masseuse. While a massage gun can provide many of the benefits of a professional massage, a masseuse can offer advice that simply won’t be offered otherwise.

But, as a supplement to a full plan to combat physical pain, a massage gun can be a vital tool.

Sources:

1: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17535144/

2: https://www.utphysicians.com/how-to-tell-the-difference-between-soreness-and-an-injury/

3: https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/sore-muscles-dont-stop-exercising#3

4: https://www.shape.com/fitness/tips/post-workout-cool-down-benefits-dynamic-stretches

5: https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/can-diet-heal-chronic-pain

6: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6342063/

7: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23013520/