Overdid it again, eh? Ease those muscle cramps and other muscular aches and pains by following the home remedies below.
Stop. If your muscle cramps up while you're exercising, STOP. Don't try to "run through" a cramp. Doing so increases your chances of seriously injuring the muscle.
Give it a stretch and squeeze. When you get a cramp, stretch the cramped muscle with one hand while you gently knead and squeeze the center of the muscle (you'll be able to feel a knot or a hard bulge of muscle) with the fingers of the other hand. Try to feel how it's contracted, and stretch it in the opposite direction. For example, if you have a cramp in your calf muscle, put your foot flat on the ground, then lean forward without allowing your heel to lift off the ground. If you can't stand on your leg, sit on the ground with that leg extended, reach forward and grab the toes or upper portion of the foot, and pull the top of the foot toward the knee.
Walk it out. Once an acute cramp passes, don't start exercising heavily right away. Instead, walk for a few minutes to get the blood flowing back into the muscles.
Chill out. If you know you've overworked your muscles, immediately take a cold shower or a cold bath to reduce the trauma to them. World-class Australian runner Jack Foster used to hose off his legs with cold water after a hard run. He told skeptics if it was good enough for racehorses, it was good enough for him! Several Olympic runners are known for taking icy plunges after a tough workout, insisting that it prevents muscle soreness and stiffness. If an icy dip seems too much for you, ice packs work well, too. Apply cold packs for 20 to 30 minutes at a time every hour for the first 24 to 72 hours after the activity. Cold helps prevent muscle soreness by constricting the blood vessels, which reduces blood flow and thus inflammation in the area.
Avoid heat. Using a heating pad or hot water bottle may feel good, but it's the worst thing for sore muscles because it dilates blood vessels and increases circulation to the area, which in turn leads to more swelling. Heat can actually increase muscle soreness and stiffness, especially if applied during the first 24 hours after the strenuous activity. If you absolutely can't resist using heat on those sore muscles, don't use it for more than 20 minutes every hour. Or, better yet, try contrast therapy -- apply a hot pad for four minutes and an ice pack for one minute. After three or four days, when the swelling and soreness have subsided, you can resume hot baths to help relax the muscles.
Take an anti-inflammatory. Taking aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen can help reduce muscle inflammation and ease pain. Follow the directions on the label, however, and check with your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about whether the medication is safe and appropriate for you. If aspirin upsets your stomach, try the coated variety. Over-the-counter salicylate (the active ingredient in aspirin) creams can also reduce pain and inflammation. They're greaseless, usually won't irritate the skin, and won't cause the stomach problems often associated with taking aspirin by mouth. For a list of precautions to take when using over-the-counter analgesics, click here.
Avoid "hot" or "cold" creams. The pharmacy and supermarket shelves are loaded with topical "sports" creams designed to ease sore, stiff muscles. Unfortunately, they don't do much beyond causing a chemical reaction that leaves your skin (but not the underlying muscles) feeling warm or cold. If you do use the topical sports creams, test a small patch of skin first to make sure you're not allergic, and never use these topicals with hot pads, because they can cause serious burns.
Do easy stretches. When you're feeling sore and stiff, the last thing you want to do is move, but it's the first thing you should do. Go easy, though, and warm up first with a 20-minute walk.
Take a swim. One of the best remedies for sore muscles is swimming. The cold water helps reduce inflammation, and the movement of muscles in water helps stretch them out and ease soreness.
Anticipate second-day soreness. You may feel a little stiff or sore a few hours after overexercising, but you'll probably feel even worse two days afterward. Don't panic. It's perfectly normal.
Massage it. As long as it's gentle, massage can help ease muscle soreness and stiffness.
Wrap up. In cold weather, you can often prevent muscle cramping by keeping the muscles warm with adequate clothing. Layered clothing offers the best insulating value by trapping air between the layers. Some people like the compression and warmth offered by running tights.
Warm up your muscles. One way to prevent muscle cramping and injuries is to warm up muscles adequately before exercise. Instead of stretching first, walk a little or bike slowly to "prewarm" the muscles. Then do a series of stretches appropriate for the exercise you're going to be doing. Even if you're only chopping wood or working in the garden, warming up and stretching before the activity will get your muscles ready for work and help prevent muscle cramping and damage.
Learn your limits. The key to preventing muscle pain, soreness, and stiffness is to learn your limits. You know you did too much if it makes you feel stiff and sore the next day. Instead of being a weekend warrior, aim to exercise regularly throughout the week. Start at a low intensity and short duration, and gradually, over a period of weeks or months, increase how hard, how long, and how often you exercise.
These tips should help you with muscle soreness during the day, but what about those strange, unexplained cramps you sometimes experience when you're fast asleep? In the next section, we'll discuss home remedies for this phenomenon.
For more information about remedies for pain, try the following links:
- To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
- Maybe you overdid it at the gym or maybe you just slept in a strange position, but we've all experienced sore muscles every now and then. Fortunately, Herbal Remedies for Muscle Pain has the information to get you back in the game.
- If you suffer from neck pain, read Home Remedies for Neck Pain for helpful tips.
- Home Remedies for Back Pain gives advice for treating a sore back at home.
- For information on coping with restless legs syndrome, read Home Remedies for Restless Legs Syndrome.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.