Whether you’ve overdone it at the gym, been on a long run or just standing all day – sore muscles are common. Healthista spoke to the experts about why it happens and exactly what to do about it
Muscle aches and pains are ubiquitous and we will all experience them at some point or other. If it’s happening to you often or for not reason, or your pain after exercise tends to last more than two days, there could be one of these underlying reasons behind it.
1. VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY
Studies have implicated vitamin D deficiency in nonspecific musculoskeletal pain and suggest that supplementation decreases pain in some people, says Dr. Deyo Famuboni, a London GP and Healthista blogger. ‘Our bodies are made of cells, which have vitamin D receptors.’ she explains. ‘The receptors, found in muscles, can become hypersensitive in a deficient state and cause soreness. In bone, the lack of vitamin D affects how we absorb calcium which makes the bones softer and can become painful. The muscles are attached to these bones and as they aren’t well supported, can become weak and sore.’ How do we fix this? ‘Sun exposure on your arms and legs for 15-20 minutes a day will up your levels of Vitamin D and reduce symptoms of deficiency,’ reveals Dr. Famuboni. There are also Vitamin D supplements available if it’s cloudy outside.
2. IRON DEFICIENCY
‘Women can sometimes get general weakness which they feel as aches due to iron deficiency from heavy periods,’ says Dr. Famuboni. This common cause of muscle soreness can be eased with dietary sources of both iron and vitamin D, such as nuts, beans, and spinach for iron and fish, eggs, and mushrooms for vitamin D. If you are concerned about these causes and symptoms, it’s worth having your levels checked, she says.
‘Another cause of sore muscles can be stress because when your body releases the stress hormones it causes your muscles to tense ready to fight or run,’ says Dr. Marilyn Glenville, women’s health expert. ‘But if you are under chronic stress then they can be tense all the time because they do not get the release of running or fighting,’ she explains. Relaxation techniques and certain nutrients can help reduce stress. B vitamins, magnesium, theanine, and Siberian ginseng have all been know to help with relaxation, Dr. Marilyn Glenville uses these and NHP’s Tranquil Woman Support supplement in her clinic.
4. UNDERLYING MEDICAL CONDITIONS
‘Some more serious causes come from inflammatory joint and muscle problems such as polymyalgia rheumatic, arthritis, and mechanical joint problems,’ explains Dr. Famuboni. ‘Mechanical joint problems generally occur from chronic wear and tear. In the shoulders, this is often from heavy handbags; in the knees, back, and feet from inappropriate footwear’. An underactive thyroid, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, viral illnesses and certain medications can also result in muscle soreness. For all of these potential causes a professional opinion is recommended.
5. MUSCLE SPRAINS
Muscle sprains from accidental injury, intense exercise, or manual work often set in 1-2 days after the activity. ‘When we exercise and strain the muscles, microscopic tears are created which the body will then repair in order to build new muscle mass, says Kelly Du Buisson, trainer and Healthista blogger. ‘The more lean muscle the body has the more weight loss or definition. So these tiny tears create soreness and stiffness in the body, which is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS,’ she says.
6 WAYS TO HELP MUSCLE SORENESS
1. Eat protein after exercise
‘Make sure you include more protein after a workout or exertion such as fish, beans, eggs and quinoa as your muscles need protein,’ advises leading women’s health expert Dr Marilyn Glenville. ‘Drink more water so that you are not dehydrated and avoid coffee and alcohol as they will cause more dehydration’.
2. Have an ice bath
Getting into a hot bath straight after exercise will only exacerbate muscle soreness. Instead try an ice bath straight after exercise to slow the blood flow and reset your hormone levels, suggests Kelly Du Buisson.
3. Try magnesium
Magnesium is important to relaxing the muscles, so you can take muscle relaxants or anti-inflammatories if the pain is severe. Dr Glenville recommends taking a bath in Epsom salts and magnesium flakes to ease sore muscles.
4.…And Epsom salts baths
You can also try Epsom salts baths. ‘Taking a hot bath with Epsom salts a few hours after exercise will help draw toxins out of the muscles and stimulate recovery,’ Kelly Du Buisson adds. ‘Sweating through exercise depletes the body of essential salts and minerals so Epsom salts, potassium supplements and taking magnesium supplements will help to aid muscle recovery.’
5. Don’t forget to move – even on rest days
The more blood flow into the muscles, the faster the recovery time. ‘While it is tempting to do nothing and stay still to avoid muscle pain, gentle stretches and easing back into usual activities is best,’ insists Dr. Glenville. Walking on rest days between tough exercise sessions is a great way of doing ‘active recovery’ – a big buzzword of the moment.
6. Massage the muscles
Massaging the muscles can help with all these causes of muscle soreness and support the recommended treatments. ‘Sports massages have physical, physiological, neurological, and psychological benefits,’ explains Tim Paine, sports therapist and author of The Complete Guide to Sports Massage. ‘It’s the skilled manipulation of soft tissue that leads to the relief and treatment of muscle soreness and pain, the maintenance of muscle balance and improved flexibility; and enhanced rehabilitation from injury’. Muscle massages can help relax a person before the stress response happens, or relax the muscles after the stress response tenses them. The stress response happens during exercise and also obviously during times of stress. During it, your body goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode and stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol flood into the muscles in preparation and this can cause the build up of waste products such as lactic and uric acid in the body that later lead to sore muscles. Massage can also reduce swelling, increase blood flow, and get oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, making it easier for muscles to recover after being strained, according to Tim Paine.
‘Self-myofascial release using a tennis ball or a foam roller is essential and I do this every day,’ says Kelly Du Buisson. This is simply were you use a device to lean a muscle on using your own body weight and that device does the massage for you (we quite like the Grid Roller too). Myofascia is the coating of the muscles, which gets tighter as the muscles are worked,’ Kelly Du Buisson promotes the use of foam rollers, which have similar effects of massages. ‘After exercise the muscles cool down and shorten so if the body isn’t properly warmed down after exercise it creates tension and the muscle fibres will congeal making it difficult to maintain proper movement without pain so it is really important to stretch,’ Du Buisson explains the benefits of stretching. ‘In terms of very tight muscles it is vital to increase flexibility by PNF stretching (that is, pushing slightly beyond the comfort zone). Breathe in and as you exhale gently increase the stretch. Hold as you inhale and repeat. It may be necessary to get someone to help you with this,’ she advises.
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