Whether you’re new to exercise or a seasoned athlete, muscle soreness happens. Increasing your workout intensity, a change of walking or running terrain and a number of other factors can make you aware of every muscle you never knew you had, especially after 50.
Less-elastic tendons and ligaments require longer recovery periods after age 50, says Michele Olson, professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala.
“With the right program, older exercisers can come back just as fast as someone in their thirties,” she said. “This includes more of a focus on stretching, drinking extra fluids, and eating high-quality post-exercise snacks containing complex carbs, like whole grains, and protein.”
It’s helpful to understand why muscles get sore in the first place, says John Soberal, a physical therapist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center’s Performance Therapy, Santa Monica, Calif.
Cylindrical tubes made of foam can be found in nearly every gym nowadays and make another useful tool for muscle soreness relief.
“Muscle soreness from exercise is also known as ‘delayed onset muscle soreness,’ or DOMS. It’s caused by microtrauma — microscopic tears of the muscle fibers, which creates inflammation.” DOMS typically occurs within 12 to 24 hours after exercise and peaks between 24 to 72 hours, Soberal says.
Try one or more of these pain-relieving remedies the next time your exercise routine leaves you achy:
1. Take an Extra Day Off
As a simple solution, sometimes you just need to take a longer break between workouts, says Olson. “You may need to decrease the frequency of high intensity workouts, doing them two days apart instead of one, especially if you’ve experienced a recent muscle or soft tissue injury.”
2. Apply Ice
Also known as “cryotherapy,” ice has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, reducing delayed onset muscle soreness. “Ice has an analgesic pain relieving effect that helps reduce pain and discomfort due to DOMS,” says Soberal, who recommends icing 15 to 20 minutes after exercise and activity, as ice tends to stiffen muscles, restrict mobility and decrease metabolic activity.
3. Apply Heat
Heat, another passive method, has also been shown to reduce muscle soreness and stiffness, says Soberal. “Heat warms up aching muscles, reduces stiffness, helps bring blood flow to the area and relaxes muscle restrictions.” Whereas ice works best for post-workout muscle soreness, heat before a workout primes muscles and joints for performance and increases blood flow, making it best as a pre-exercise approach.
4. Use a Foam Roll
Cylindrical tubes made of foam can be found in nearly every gym nowadays and make another useful tool for muscle soreness relief. You lie or press on the roller to “iron out” knots. “These tools help reduce muscle restrictions and trigger points by applying deep pressure to tender points in the muscle for minutes at a time,” says Soberal. “This brings blood flow to the area.”
A 2014 study showed foam rolling after an intense workout relieved muscle soreness after a workout and also improved range of motion, or flexibility. Foam rolling can assist in “ironing out” fascia, the connective tissue that envelops muscles that tend to cause mobility restrictions, says Soberal.
5. Do Light Activity
This sounds counterintuitive, but low-level exercise can help loosen up muscles and ease soreness, days Tom Holland, exercise physiologist, triathlete and author of Beat the Gym. Light walking or jogging, bike riding or other light exercise increases blood flow, flushes out exercise byproducts and can help heal soreness.
6. Get a Massage
Since reduced blood flow to muscles after exercise contributes to muscle soreness, increasing blood flow via massage may help, says Holland. A study from the University of Illinois at Chicago backs up this method. Researchers showed faster recovery from exercise-induced muscle soreness after massage therapy when compared to a group of exercisers who did not receive massage. The massage created total body, long-lasting results as well, suggesting massage therapy may also be protective.
7. Wear Support Gear
Compression gear such as shorts and leggings can also help ease soreness, says Holland. “It’s a huge help by increasing blood flow to the muscles.” Wearing compression gear produces its helpful effect following workouts that result in DOMS by reducing the duration and severity of the soreness, says a British study.
“In the end, whether it’s foam rolling, compression clothing, doing some light activity or getting a massage, recovery comes from increasing blood flow and finding what makes you feel good,” says Holland.