Avoid Sore Muscles — Tips for When You’re Active

You’ve likely heard the phrase “use it or lose it.” We know we need to use our muscles in order to keep them in good shape. Being active is invaluable for our overall fitness, but most everyone has experienced over doing it and ended up with sore muscles.

Reduce the Potential for Sore Muscles

Warm up your muscles first if you’re going to be active — either a recreational or work activity. Move around to get blood flowing to the muscles you’ll use in your activity. Walking or jogging can help you warm up.

Stretch the muscles you’ll be working for a few minutes. Stretching should not be painful, and you shouldn’t bounce while stretching.

Have a cool-down phase after your activity. This can include around 10 minutes of walking or jogging followed by stretching.

Stay hydrated throughout your activity.

Stay active. The more you use your muscles, the less likely you are to get sore. Get up and stretch regularly if you work at a desk or in a situation where you have a risk of muscle strain or tension. The National Institutes of Health recommend getting up and stretching at least every 60 minutes.

A Muscle Pull or Strain During Activity

If you feel pain during physical activity, that pain can be a sign of a pulled or strained muscle.

Use R.I.C.E. therapy after the activity to relieve pain.

  • Rest. Give the sore muscle a break until it feels better.
  • Ice. Place an ice pack on the sore area for 15 to 20 minutes three time a day. A bag of frozen peas works as an ice pack. Ice the injury for one to three days. After that, apply heat if you still feel pain.
  • Compression. A compression bandage can help reduce swelling.
  • Elevation. A sore leg or arm can be elevated to reduce swelling.

Muscle Soreness a Couple of Days After Activity

If you notice muscle soreness a day or two after a physical activity, this is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It’s perfectly normal.

Here are some self-care ideas you can try:

  • R.I.C.E. Rest, ice, compression and elevation can help with DOMS.
  • Massage. Use a foam roller such as a pool noodle. Place it on the floor and roll stiff muscles on top of the roller for a couple of minutes.
  • Heat. A heating pad or warm bath can help ease muscle soreness. The extra blood flow can help wash away the chemical irritants causing soreness.
  • Stretching. Warm up your muscles with light activity and then stretch. Take it easy. If doing something hurts, don’t do it.

Give Yourself a Break

Rest your sore muscles. If your activity is competitive, such as athletics, you’ll be below your peak performance for a few days. A few days of easy exercise prevents further muscle damage and reduces chances for injury.

When to See Your Health Care Provider for Muscle Pain

See your health care provider if muscle pain:

  • Doesn’t go away after a few days of self-care.
  • Is severe with no known cause.
  • Occurs with a rash, redness or swelling.
  • Occurs after a tick bite.
  • Occurs soon after a change in your medications.

Seek immediate medical attention if your muscle pain is accompanied by:

  • Sudden water retention and/or a reduction in urine volume.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Vomiting and/or running a fever.
  • Trouble catching your breath.
  • Stiffness in your neck area.
  • Muscles that are weak.
  • Inability to move the affected area of the body.

Your health care provider can give you guidance on ways to keep your muscles toned and ready for activities you want to do — without leaving you sore!

Meet the Author

David DeJongh, DPT, is a physical therapist at Aurora Health Care on Good Hope Road in Milwaukee, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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