According to a new study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, light activity after a workout can help ease muscle soreness just as well as a massage.
Danish researchers asked 20 women to perform shoulder exercises. Two days later, the women received a 10-minute massage on one shoulder and performed 10 minutes of exercise (a lighter intensity version of the original moves) on the other. Participants felt equal amounts of relief in both shoulders.
Researchers suggest that light exercise increases circulation to muscles and may help speed up the body’s drainage of metabolic waste linked to muscle aches. Previous research found that increased blood flow speeds delivery of nutrients to damaged muscles, makes tissues more elastic, and increases range of motion—all of which can help ease pain and boost recovery.
Moving your muscles isn’t the only way to keep them pain-free. Try these five ways to help ease muscle pain:
- Foam rollers – Similar to massage, foam rollers increase blood flow to your muscles through applied pressure. You decide which muscles you work, so you can make sure to focus on the areas that need the most attention.
- Acetominophen – Skip ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. You might feel better, but they also halt your body’s production of a group of lipid compounds called prostaglandins, which research shows help muscles heal. Acetaminophen (aka Tylenol) can help temporarily ease pain without preventing muscles from repairing themselves.
- Stretching—after a warm-up – You know the importance of stretching, but when you stretch is just as important. Limbering up relaxes and lengthens tight muscles, but stretching “cold” muscles can cause injury, so be sure to stretch after you’ve completed a light warm-up.
- Heat therapy – Warm temperatures are helpful for increasing blood flow to sore muscles. Soak in a hot bath, or if the pain is isolated, apply heat directly to the spot that’s causing you the most pain.
- Omega-3s – the healthy fats in omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce soreness and ease inflammation 48 hours after a strength-training workout, according to research published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. Omega-3s are naturally found in foods such as salmon, spinach, and nuts— and may help boost circulation as well.