Ask Well: Relieving Sore Muscles


What’s the best way to relieve sore muscles?

I am a 56-year-old woman who exercises at least an hour a day. I am sore a lot of the time. What is the best approach to reducing muscle soreness? I know about foam rollers, protein, ice baths

Exercise could be described as Nietzschean. To make muscles fitter, you damage them slightly during workouts, prompting the fibers to repair themselves and become stronger. This process “is a good thing,” said Thomas Swensen, a professor of exercise and sports science at Ithaca College in New York. “You want to stress the muscles. They adapt positively.”

But in the meantime, they ache and, unfortunately, few methods reliably relieve the soreness. The painkiller ibuprofen, for instance, has little effect on exercise-related pain, studies show, and may actually reduce the ability of muscles to repair themselves. Similarly, post-exercise ice baths chill muscles, as you would expect, but do not, most studies show, make them less tender.

On the other hand, sports massage marginally reduces soreness, some studies suggest, although the overall effect is “too small to be clinically relevant,” a systematic review of massage-related studies concluded in 2012.

Ditto for arnica. A small study published in August in The European Journal of Sport Science found that runners who rubbed the substance onto their legs every four hours for three days after a punishing workout felt slightly less sore afterward than runners who did not….

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