How to Relax Sore Muscles

Muscle soreness can range in intensity from fairly mild to downright distracting. Common causes of soreness include tension, illness, poor posture and vigorous exercise. Bouts of physically demanding work -- such as house painting, gardening or snow shoveling -- can also cause your muscles to bunch up and ache. What you need are techniques designed to help your sore muscles heal, loosen up and relax. Experiment with different treatments -- or combinations of treatments -- to discover what works best for you.

  1. Rest the muscles that are causing you trouble. Overtraining, or training too intensely without adequate rest, can lead to extreme muscle and joint soreness, as well as fatigue, loss of appetite, mood changes and a drop in athletic performance. If you've recently boosted the intensity, frequency or duration of your workouts or if you're an exercise newbie, refraining from physical activity for a few days might be the most effective approach for treating soreness.

  2. Apply ice or heat to muscles that are sore from strain. Within 24 to 72 hours of a muscle injury, applying an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel is often helpful for reducing inflammation and discomfort. After that, you might find heat application offers greater relief.

  3. Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to lessen pain and discomfort. If you opt to take ibuprofen -- a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID -- use it for a short period of time, preferably no more than several days.

  4. Massage sore areas or arrange to have a professional massage. "The New Harvard Guide to Women's Health" recommends massage therapy as a means to reduce stress and muscle soreness.

  5. Stretch tight, sore areas throughout your work day if pain is not severe. First, do three to minutes of light cardio activity to raise muscle-tissue temperature and increase circulation. Move into and out of stretch positions slowly and carefully. Hold stretches for up to 30 seconds while breathing evenly to help muscles relax and lengthen.

  6. Use a foam roller to work out kinks. Foam rolling involves rolling a foam roller against affected areas to self-massage them. The roller serves as a substitute for a massage therapist's hands. Research evidence presented in a 2013 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggests foam rolling is an effective tool for reducing soreness after exercise. Go easy at first until you discover exactly how much pressure to apply to your aching muscles.

  7. Eat foods that might reduce post-workout soreness. The American Council on Exercise points to evidence that certain foods -- including watermelon, protein-rich tempeh and cherry juice -- might reduce muscle soreness and decrease recovery time.


    To prevent post-workout muscle soreness, the American Council on Exercise suggests avoiding sudden increases in exercise intensity, frequency and duration. Instead, let your workouts get progressively more demanding.


    Be aware, extreme muscle soreness can negatively affect coordination and cause a decrease in joint range of motion. Working out when you're extremely sore can result in poor body mechanics, which translates into greater stress on your ligaments and tendons, and a higher risk of injury.

    Delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is a normal response to exercise. DOMS tends to peak 24 to 48 hours after a workout and gradually disappears over the next several days. However, if you experience sudden, sharp or persistent pain, see your doctor.

Things Needed

  • Ice pack
  • Thin towel
  • Heat pack
  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Foam roller

About the Author

Judy Fisk has been writing professionally since 2011, specializing in fitness, recreation, culture and the arts. A certified fitness instructor with decades of dance training, she has taught older adults, teens and kids. She has written educational and fundraising material for several non-profit organizations and her work has appeared in numerous major online publications. Fisk holds a Bachelor of Arts in public and international affairs from Princeton University.