How to help aching muscles recover without using ice
Having a sore body after a workout is normal. We all know the pain of aching back muscles and leg muscles after a tough session – and it can set you back for days.
It has long been an accepted fact that ice is great for muscle recovery and sporting injuries.
We’ve all seen elite athletes dunking themselves in buckets of ice water after grueling sessions and big competitions, and if you’ve ever sprained your ankle playing netball, or twisted your knee in the gym, there’s a high possibility that you will have been handed an ice pack.
Now, injuries are one thing, but when it comes to recovery for aching muscles or DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness), is ice actually the most effective thing you can use?
In fact, a new study has suggested that ice may not only be ineffective, but it could actually slow recovery time down all together.
Which is really the opposite intended effect.
The study, which was conducted on mice, demonstrated that ice packing damaged muscles can slow down the natural recovery process that takes place in your muscles after working out – which may cause delays to your fitness goals.
The results are not entirely conclusive, but they have got us questioning the effectiveness of ice, and looking for alternative methods of recovery.
If you want to stay away from the cold stuff, here are some other techniques you can try which should help relieve aches and pains and help you get back to your best sooner after an intense fitness session:
Jane Hart is a personal trainer and co-founder of fitness marketplace GetMeFit. She says foam rollers are great for self-myofascial release.
‘This is massaging the connective tissues surrounding the muscles and bones to help with increased range of motion and reduced DOMS, according to a review in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy,’ she explains.
A 2017 review of several studies found that people who received a massage 24, 48, or 72 hours after an intense workout reported significantly less soreness than people who didn’t get a post-workout massage.
‘Even fitting in 10 minutes of massage two or three times a week while you watch the TV can make noticeable changes,’ adds Jane.
Jane says that doing low intensity forms of cross-training can help to relieve soreness in muscles.
‘It is a great way to keep challenging your body,’ she explains. ‘Walking, jogging, swimming or cycling at an easy pace, are perfect for this. Just pick one that’s complimentary to your primary discipline.
‘Aim for 4-6/10 RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion).’
So, don’t push it too hard, otherwise you will simply create more soreness for yourself.
Focus on flexibility
‘If you are doing a lot of high-intensity and/or strength training, it’s good to counter-balance this and schedule in regular exercise to focus on your flexibility e.g. Pilates or yoga,’ suggests Jane.
‘Even committing to 1 hour a week, will pay dividends.’
‘My biggest eye-opener, more than any other, is yoga,’ explains Tom Jenane, nutrition and fitness expert.
‘I started performing yoga in the evenings after a workout around one year ago and it has completely changed everything. I barely get any DOMS anymore, beyond a soft ache.
‘You should adjust your yoga workout so it focuses on the muscles you have trained that day, rather than just using a generic one.’
Stretching is a great tool as well. One that Orangetheory Fitness head coach Vero Walker swears by:
‘Stretching is a great way of reducing soreness and preventing injury post-workout and it should be included in everyone’s recovery routines,’ Vero tells Metro.co.uk.
‘Even five minutes of stretching right after a workout can be effective – especially during these cooler winter months.
Rotate primary muscle groups
‘Depending on your discipline, try to mix things up a bit so that you alternative your focus,’ suggests Jane.
So, if you’re strength training, do an upper-body heavy day one day, followed by a lower-body day.
‘This way, you can keep training but don’t over-strain the same muscle groups relentlessly.’
Light resistance training
This is essentially another form of active recovery. Jane suggests that weight training – with very light weights – can help to ease some of your soreness, and actually improve how you train.
‘Dropping your weights to about 3/10 on your maximum strength with higher reps can be a good opportunity to perfect your technique,’ she suggests.
But don’t forget that while active recovery can be helpful, resting is also really important. Make sure you’re not training every single day – it’s not good for your mind or your body.
Warm treatment to soothe muscles
‘The polar opposite of using ice,’ says Jane. ‘But after a long run there’s nothing better than a long soak in a warm bath of Epsom salts to ease off your legs.
‘Also, warm compresses can be much more pleasant than applying ice, and can stop you tensing up already stressed areas.’
Why ice doesn’t work for sore muscles
‘The traditional view on treating muscles soreness was pioneered over 40 years ago by Dr. Gabe Mirkin who famously coined the term RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) as the answer, but now we are looking for better solutions, in fact even Dr Mirkin himself now admits that ‘both ice and complete rest may delay healing instead of helping.
‘Applying Ice indisputably dulls the pain in the localised area by reducing your nerve conduction (if you’re brave enough to take the unpleasant sensation), but it doesn’t actually promote healing, it’s more of a natural pain-killer.
‘The British Journal of Sports Medicine research in 2012 also concluded: ‘Ice is commonly used after acute muscle strains but there are no clinical studies of its effectiveness.’
Jane Hart, personal trainer
Get a good night’s sleep
Your body needs regular good quality sleep to repair and recharge.
‘You have made microscopic tears in the muscle fibres and these need to be repaired, hence muscle growth,’ explains Tom.
‘While most seem to think that you build muscle in the gym, you’re actually making those micro-tears in the muscles and you build the muscle when you’re sleeping. You should, therefore, make sure to get plenty of sleep at night.
‘I’ve spoken to so many people that are suffering through a plateau, but when I ask how much sleep they get they tell me six hours – and I feel the answer has hit them in the face.’
You should aim for a minimum of seven hours of sleep to help your body to recover from exercise most effectively. So turn off that alarm and cancel those early breakfast plans.
There are all kinds of compression items on the market that claim to help speed up recovery – from leggings to socks to base layers. But can they actually be effective in reducing DOMS?
Studies have found that using compression garments can lower muscle soreness during the recovery period – and get you back to your maximum strength faster. Ideal.
But again, the studies are not conclusive and some researchers suggest that other factors could be playing a part in this as well as simply the progression garments. But, anecdotally at least, the results have been positive.
‘Getting injured and ending up out of action for months is miserable If you do have an ongoing injury, it’s always worthwhile to get professional help from a sports therapist or physiotherapist sooner rather than later,’ says Jane. ‘Otherwise you are likely to end up in a cycle of overcompensating for injuries and the problem escalating.’
Recovery products to invest in
MyoMaster, MyoPump, £535
MyoMaster’s MyoPump and MyoAir are comprised of pumps that slip onto your legs like compression tights, but they use technology to mimic the natural movements of the legs after an intense workout.
They pump in sequences up the limb (feeling a bit like a blood pressure pump) to flush the toxins and waste products that your body naturally does itself over three or four days. But the pumps can do this in a 30-minute treatment.
Theragun G3Pro, £625
The Theragun is lightweight and versatile, so you can reach even tricky areas – like your back and shoulders – without too much trouble. It uses percussive therapy to pulse targeted pressure into your muscles at speed.
‘The device delivers short-duration pulses deep into the tissues of your body,’ explains Ben McNamara, Theragun UK Lead.
‘The specially engineered speed and amplitude of the pressure works to relieve pain, enhance athletic performance, improve range of motion, and accelerate recovery.’
RENPHO, Massage Gun, £99
A more affordable option than the Theragun, the RENPHO device lets you choose from five speeds and loads of different attachment options. It has six hours of battery life and it comes with a USB charging cable for on-the-go refuels.
The TheraBulb is a simple way to use near-infrared (NIR) light therapy at home, and research suggests NIR light therapy can improve circulation, reduce muscle tension, and even boost the immune system.
You simply use the bulb in a lamp and shine the light on the area of the body that you wish to target.
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