A Healthy Pause: Treating Post-Workout Pain


We all have had the experience: We wake up in the morning and we are really feeling that workout from the previous day, or even two or three days before. That pain is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), which is a really fancy name for "Ouch, I kicked my own butt!"

If you've been exercising for a while, that pain can send you the message that you are really bringing it. If you're new to exercise, though, you may be tempted to that as an excuse to put off exercising for a good long while. Don't. No excuses.

"No pain, no gain" is not the greatest messaging: Sure, you want to push yourself in an effort to get stronger, but push too far and you run the risk of injury. So what do you do if you get hit with DOMS? Here are some ideas:

  • Get moving, sooner rather than later. Don't go heavy handed into another workout but do something light: a brisk walk, a light jog, some easy stretching -- anything that can help your body open up and get your circulation going.
  • Hydrate: Keep drinking water. Get more fluid into your system. Your body thrives on water. And no, coffee and soda don't count.
  • Try a nice hot bath bath with a cup of Epsom salts. The salts are great for soothing tired muscles.
  • Find a great anti-inflammatory cream, particularly one with Arnica, an herbal anti-inflammatory. Traumeel makes a great cream and it's always easy to keep a tube in your medicine cabinet.
  • If you must, pop an ibuprofen tablet but follow the directions and don't swallow them by the handful. Honestly, it will wreck your stomach.
  • Splurge every so often on a massage. If you are going to spend a lot of time challenging your body, make the investments in healing it as well. You will be able to work out better longer for it.

If you think you've injured yourself -- if the area is swollen, discolored and/or sensitive to the touch -- you may be suffering from a strain or a sprain. Check with your doctor. They can diagnose a strain (the over-stretching or tearing of a muscle), a sprain (the over-stretching or tear of a tendon) or even a stress fracture in the bone. If the doctor finds a strain or a sprain, they will probably suggest that you use RICE to help heal:

  • R: Rest. Yes, my brave New Yorker, you must rest the injured area. That doesn't mean skipping hills when you go for your run, that means skipping the run. Short-term smarts on your part will lead to a much faster recovery. Note that if you avoid resting a strained tendon, the recovery could take longer than if you'd broken a bone. I know, I know. I'm such a dark cloud.
  • I: Ice. Ice the injured area. At times, I think it's easier to get New Yorkers to root for the Red Sox than to ice an injury. Take an ice pack, or even a bag of frozen vegetables, wrap it in a light cloth and apply it to the injury for 10 to 20 minutes. Do this three or four times a day and it will do wonders in terms of getting rid of the inflammation and allowing nutrient-rich circulation back to the area.
  • C: Compression. Wrap the area in a bandage -- not so tight as to cut off circulation, but just enough to feel the compression.
  • E: Elevation. Elevate the injured area for 10 to 20 minutes several times a day. This means that if you have injured your leg or ankle, lie down on the sofa and put you legs up. This, like the ice, will do wonders toward helping to alleviate the swelling.

Be smart: Follow the RICE plan for a few days and you will be up and at it again. If you find you keep injuring the same area, take a good long look at how you are training that particular area, and maybe, just maybe, make a few changes. If you have any thoughts about injuries or any questions about exercise or fitness, shoot me an email at michael@fitnessgurunyc.com. And make sure you check out the web site, The Fitness Guru, for daily tips and ideas. Rock on!

Michael Feigin, MS, CSCS, is the owner of The Fitness Guru, a DUMBO, Brooklyn-based health and fitness company. For the last 25 years, Michael has helped thousands of New Yorkers (and folks from other parts of the world) achieve their health and fitness dreams.

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