Muscle pain is never fun and there are a variety of causes including sports injury, accidents, exercise, and general wear and tear. Sometimes fatigue and overwork or certain types of jobs involving repetitive movement can also cause muscle pain.
Resulting pain levels can vary greatly and in some instances can be quite severe. At the other end of the spectrum, it may be a niggling pain that doesn’t go away, but is just enough to impede movement and daily activity.
Regardless of the cause, muscle pain can be hard to manage (because we often still need to keep moving), inconvenient and just plain annoying.
While it is tempting to go to the pharmacy or doctor and take painkillers, these just treat the pain, not the cause. This is far from ideal because although the pain goes away, the underlying cause remains untreated.
This can actually be dangerous, because while the pain is masked, you may be tricked into thinking all is well and actually do more damage. And there is also a good chance the pain will simply keep returning.
As an alternative to painkillers, there are a number of natural ways to treat sore muscles and reduce the pain. Here is a list of 10 methods for you to try.
1. Epsom Salt
A good handful of Epsom salt in a warm bath can do wonders for any aching or sore muscles. Fill the bath with warm water, throw in the salts and relax for 15-20 minutes. To make it even more effective, add some essential oils (see Number 2).
Epsom salts contain high levels of magnesium sulphate, which is a natural muscle relaxant. They work by removing fluid from muscles, and as a result reduce inflammation and swelling of the muscle.
2. Essential Oils
Certain essential oils are ‘regenerating’ and can help with muscles soreness, particularly after exercise. Choose from Lemongrass, Eucalyptus, Juniper, Orange, Rosewood, Geranium, Cedarwood and Neroli.
Add a few drops of your chosen oil to a carrier oil or lotion and rub into affected areas for relief.
You can also combine the essential oils with Epsom salts in a soaking bath to help soothe muscles. Simply add 6 drops of your chosen oils to a handful of salts before dissolving them in the bath water. Soak for 15-20 minutes.
3. Omega 3
Omega 3 is regularly proven to be highly beneficial in many ways, and treating sore muscles is just one. Increased levels of omega 3 can reduce inflammation in muscles, and reduce any associated pain and soreness.
Omega 3 also improves circulation in the body, which will help prevent sore muscles in the first place. A regular intake of Omega 3 is therefore a great method of muscle pain prevention.
There are natural sources of Omega 3 with the highest levels found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines. It is also available in Fish Oil or Omega 3 supplements – but as always it is wise to check with your healthcare provider before taking them.
When purchasing fish oil supplements, ensure they have been molecularly distilled which ensures that environmental toxins such as mercury have been removed. An even better source are microalgae oils such as these.
Whether it’s a warm shower or bath, a heat pack or hot water bottle, applying a low level of heat to sore muscles can help them relax naturally. Try a few different options to see which works best for you.
The heat causes muscles to relax by themselves, therefore reducing the pain associated with tense muscles. It also increases blood flow and brings healing nutrients to the affected area.
Heat packs are particularly effective for muscle pain in the back. Combined with gentle stretching exercises, this can bring relief within 24 hours. If pain in the lower back is something you experience regularly, here’s a video with 5 simple exercises that can help.
5. Ice packs
While heat can help relax muscles and reduce pain, if your muscles are sore from bruising or inflammation, an ice pack or cold bath will be much more effective than heat.
Ice packs reduce any swelling or bruising when applied directly to the sore and inflamed area. They also act as a local anaesthetic and therefore can reduce the associated pain.
Research has shown that drinking coffee before a workout can help to prevent sore muscles and the associated pain. It helps to increase endurance levels and the productivity of your workout.
The pain reducing qualities of caffeine have long been known and researched. One study showed that post-workout pain could be reduced by up to 48% following moderate amounts of caffeine. (Source).
Another found that caffeine could greatly reduce muscle pain during exercise (Source).
It is important to note, that to help with muscle pain, the amount of caffeine required would need to be over and above any regular daily consumption. If you regularly consume coffee, then for pain relief, consume extra as needed.
For non coffee drinkers, you can consume caffeine when pain relief is needed.
Magnesium is critical for proper functioning of the body, and muscles are no exception. Low levels of magnesium in the body can cause general aches and pains in the muscles at the best of times. Add to this general wear and tear, exercise or injury and your muscles are going to hurt.
Magnesium levels can be increased by eating more food that have naturally high levels of magnesium, such as spinach, seeds, nuts, fish, bananas, yogurt, whole grains, dark leafy greens, avocados, dried fruit and dark chocolate.
Magnesium supplement tablets are another option for increasing magnesium levels quickly. They are particularly useful if you know your exercise or activity levels are going to be higher in the upcoming days. This could be an upcoming sporting event or other activity that will push your muscles.
In this case, increase your intake of magnesium for several days beforehand. I have done this on many occasions and it can really help the muscles cope better during exercise and make recovery a lot faster.
8. Foam Rollers
While more exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing when your muscles are sore, gently using a foam roller can ease the soreness. But be warned, they can hurt a bit at first but you won’t regret the benefits. It is important to make sure you are using them correctly for the muscles you want to stretch.
Foam rollers work by increasing blood flow to the muscles through pressure applied directly to the problem area. They are a significantly cheaper option than a physiotherapist or medication that you can use at home as often as you want. Plus, you can control which areas you focus on.
The one I use is this one, but there are lots of other sizes available.
If you are not sure how to use a foam roller, go to YouTube and search “foam roller stretches” or “foam roller stretches for [insert muscle to stretch]”. There are lots of great videos that show how to use them in a variety of ways and for different muscles. I’ve done this to particularly help with pain in my legs including hamstrings, calves and quadriceps.
9. Cherry Juice
Cherry juice has recently been shown to contain high levels of antioxidants, which not only give the cherries their red color, but happen to provide pain relief as well. As a result, drinking cherry juice can help to reduce muscle soreness.
Research has shown that drinking cherry juice before and during any exercise can reduce post-workout pain and soreness both immediately afterwards, and for a longer duration. (Source )
Swimming is a gentle, low impact exercise that has many benefits. Not only is it a great form of exercise, it is an effective form of physiotherapy that can treat sore muscles. The water provides a light resistance and increases blood flow to the injured muscles.
This method is particularly good for muscle pain resulting from overuse or strain. If possible, stick to an indoor pool and one with relatively warm water – this will prevent any further strain on your muscles.
If you suffer at any time from muscle pain, try some of the above natural methods to get relief and reduce soreness. A combination may be most effective and some e.g. supplements may be suitable as a longer term method for prevention.
You definitely don’t have to live with muscle pain or use painkillers. Try these methods and you will get relief, while also ensuring your muscles are helped to improve and heal.