Sore Muscles? These 7 Remedies and Actions May Help

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Ouch, that workout makes you wonder if you'll be going back to the gym any time soon. Relieve those sore muscles, pain, stiffness and reduce your inflammation with these easy and safe treatments

Exercise is a great way to stay healthy and fit but sometimes those muscles are sore afterwards. Pain and discomfort can lead to lower sports performance for both amateurs and professionals. And for those who are just getting started with their exercise routine, it may discourage you from future workouts.

In addition, muscle soreness often accompanies joint pain when facing inflammatory diseases like arthritis, chronic back pain and fibromyalgia. These seven natural remedies and actions -- ginger, watermelon, fish oil, coriander, sulforaphane found in cruciferous vegetables, turmeric and spa/water therapies -- may reduce muscle soreness, pain and recovery time and fight your inflammatory symptoms.

1. Ginger

High-intensity exercise or unaccustomed eccentric exercise can cause the phenomenon of exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD), which usually results in cramps, muscle strain, impaired muscle function and delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Ginger possesses analgesic and pharmacological properties that mimic non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs due to their ability to fight inflammation and oxidative stress.[i]

In a study of 20 participants who did an elbow flexor exercise to induce muscle damage after a five-day supplementation period of placebo or 4 grams (g) of ginger, the ginger group had faster recovery of muscle strength but no change in muscle damage or DOMS following high-intensity resistance exercise.[ii]

In a quasi-experimental study, 36 healthy females were evenly divided into three groups. One group took 2 g of ginger powder one hour before exercise consisting of a 20-minute step test. Another group took 2 g of ginger after exercise, and the third group took a placebo. Those in the ginger-before-exercise group reduced their pain the most, followed by ginger after exercise, which had a moderate analgesic effect compared to the placebo. The before group had significantly better outcomes than the placebo group in reducing interleukin-6 -- a marker of inflammation found in DOMS.[iii]

Another two studies involved a total of 77 participants who consumed 2 g of either raw (study 1) or heated (study 2) ginger or placebo for 11 consecutive days followed by 18 elbow flexor exercises to induce pain and inflammation. Both raw and heat-treated ginger resulted in similarly reduced pain 24 hours after exercise compared to no pain changes in the placebo group.[iv]

2. Watermelon or L-citrulline

Watermelon -- or Citrullus in Latin[v] -- is one of the richest sources of L-citrulline. This amino acid may improve vascular function through increased L-arginine bioavailability and nitric oxide synthesis, which results in improved skeletal muscle oxygenation and performance during endurance exercise.[vi]

In 19 healthy male subjects, watermelon juice (L-citrulline) enriched with pomegranate compound ellagitannins was taken before exercise consiting of eight sets of eight repetitions of half-squats. This resulted in maintenance of force during the exercise and significant decreases in exertion and muscle soreness after the exercise.[vii]

In a crossover design study of 21 healthy male amateur marathon runners performing two half marathons with two weeks recovery between contests, subjects either exercised two hours after drinking 3.45 grams per 500 milliliters (g/ml) of an enriched L-citrulline watermelon juice or a placebo juice.

The watermelon group had significantly lowered muscle soreness perception from 24 to 72 hours after the race and maintained lower concentrations of plasma lactate -- a marker of muscle damage -- after an exhausting exercise compared to the placebo group.[viii]

In a trial of 22 trained males who consumed 2.4 g per day of L-citrulline or placebo orally for seven days, and on the eighth day took 2.4 g of L-citrulline or placebo 1 hour before completing a 4-kilometer cycling trial, L-citrulline supplementation significantly increased plasma L-arginine levels -- a marker of sports performance -- and reduced completion time by 1.5% compared with the placebo.

Subjective feelings of muscle fatigue and concentration immediately after exercise significantly improved with L-citrulline as well.[ix]

3. DHA and EPA Fish Oil

Another placebo-controlled study involved 24 healthy men who took 600 milligrams (mg) of eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and 260 mg of docosahexaenoic (DHA) in a fish oil supplement for eight weeks before exercise, and during five days of exercise. This alleviated any strength loss and limited joint range of motion compared to the placebo group after eccentric contractions of elbow flexors to induce muscle loss.[x]

4. Coriander Seeds or Cilantro

Coriander Sativum L. (also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley) produces seeds and leaves that have been actively investigated for their chemical and biological properties, which include antimicrobial, antioxidant, anxiolytic, analgesic and anti-inflammatory activities.[xi]

Scientists believe the plentiful polyphenols identified in coriander seeds positively impact diabetes and its symptoms due to their abilities to inhibit inflammation and oxidative stress.[xii]

Coriander has also been shown to relieve many rheumatoid arthritis symptoms such as joint pain, swelling, stiffness and cachexia -- a loss of body mass, predominantly skeletal muscle, accompanied by deterioration of physical performance, disruption of metabolism and reduction in quality of life.[xiii]

In a mouse model that evaluated the anxiety and impact on muscles of a difficult maze test, coriander seed extract at 100 milligrams per kilograms (mg/kg) reduced anxiety, relaxed muscles and relieved muscle soreness compared to a placebo.[xiv]

5. Sulforaphane

Sulforaphane (SF) -- an ingredient found in cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, kale and cauliflower -- is known to have chemopreventive properties in different tissues.

Male rats were treated with SF at a dose of 25 mg/kg body weight by intraperitoneal injection (ip) for three days before undergoing an acute exhaustive treadmill exercise. SF acted as an indirect antioxidant in skeletal muscles reducing soreness and pain as well as preventing exhaustive EIMD.[xv]

6. Curcumin or Turmeric

Strenuous exercise is often associated with inflammation and muscle damage. In a study, 28 healthy, male runners were assigned to either turmeric -- curcumin longa extract -- at a dose of three capsules per day, 500 mg each or a placebo of three capsules per day, 500 mg of microcrystalline cellulose, taken for four weeks and immediately before and after a half-marathon race.

The half-marathon race increased markers of inflammation and muscle damage but those taking the turmeric supplement increased their interleukin-10 -- an anti-inflammatory cytokine -- and decreased their myoglobin levels -- an indicator of muscle damage -- compared to the placebo group.[xvi]

A combination of curcumin and piperine -- black pepper -- supplementation before and after exercise showed moderately lower muscle damage and an increase in muscle function (sprinting output) for 10 rugby players over the control group.[xvii]

In a systematic review of 29 trials involving 2,396 participants with five types of arthritis, curcumin and curcuma longa extract were administered in doses ranging from 120 to 1500 mg for a duration of four to 36 weeks. In general, these treatments from the turmeric plant showed safe results and lessened the severity of inflammation and pain levels in these arthritis patients.[xviii]

7. Spa and Hydrotherapy Treatments

In a comprehensive review of research, both hydrotherapy -- therapy using water-- and spa bathing therapy -- treatments with mineral salts or mud using warm water -- were found to have a significant pain-relieving effect in people with chronic diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissues, such as osteoarthritis, low back pain, fibromyalgia, ankylosing spondylitis and rheumatoid arthritis.

The warm water eased the signals for pain, relaxed the muscles and increased blood flow, reducing pain in the area. They also consistently and significantly improved the patient's quality of life since pain and quality of life are closely related.[xix]

The most common symptoms of arthritis are pain, swelling, stiffness and difficulty moving a joint.[xx] Researchers have shown that people with different types of arthritis may benefit from hydrotherapy.[xxi] For example, one study found that people with knee osteoarthritis improved their markers of pain and knee function after eight weeks of aquatic exercise.[xxii]

In a study of 43 patients with rheumatoid arthritis who engaged in moderately intense hydrotherapy while continuing their medication, the water therapy improved disease symptoms and markers, including lower oxidative stress, compared to a healthy control group.[xxiii]

In a meta-analysis of 12 trials regarding chronic low back pain and the use of spa therapy, spa treatments significantly decreased chronic back pain and improved lumbar spine function over the placebo.[xxiv]

Sixty-six patients with chronic back pain from osteoarthritis were treated for two weeks with daily mud packs and bicarbonate-alkaline mineral water baths or thermal hydrotherapy rehabilitation, a combination of the spa/hydro regimens in the treatment group or usual medication only in the control group.

All spa and water treatment groups showed clinical benefit including improvements in pain, overall disability and neck disability. Spa and hydro therapies also induced changes in proteins responsible for gene expression modulation, differentiation, angiogenesis, tissue repair, and acute and chronic inflammatory responses.[xxv]

In a study of 28 subjects evenly divided into either a sauna therapy group or a control group, those who had a sauna before doing repeated exercise of the wrist extensor muscle had a lower deficit in range of motion and improved muscle functions -- grip strength and wrist extension strength -- following exercise compared to the control group.[xxvi]

A low-cost do-it-yourself spa treatment is to add 300 grams or 1.25 cups of Epsom salts -- a mineral salt containing magnesium and sulfate -- to your warm bath. Experts believe Epsom salts stabilize mood, relieve stress, anxiety and depression,[xxvii] relax muscles, relieve headaches and pain in the shoulder, neck, back and skull areas,[xxviii] reduce inflammation and help sore muscles in the recovery period after a workout.[xxix]

Magnesium deficiency is thought to be a major risk factor for osteoarthritis development and progression, since it increases inflammatory markers, cartilage damage, defective chondrocyte biosynthesis, which impacts cartilage connective tissues, and abnormal calcification and weakens the effect of pain medications.[xxx] Epsom salt baths have been shown to increase magnesium and sulfate levels in research participants.[xxxi]

Healthy Habits for Sore and Achy Muscles

For safe and natural ways to address muscle soreness, pain and stiffness as well as damage caused by exercise, sports, injury or inflammatory diseases, add these seven new healthy habits of using ginger, enhanced watermelon juice, coriander, turmeric, cruciferous veggies, omega-3 fish oil or spa/hydro therapies. See for more information on the topics of muscle soreness or exercise-induced muscle damage.


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