Monday, September 30, 2013

10 Ways to Sooth Muscles Naturally

I'm just coming off of a seriously intense couple of weeks with
Zumba Fitness.  Picking up lots of classes for the fall season and presenting at the OMG Fitness Concert has made my tired muscles very sore.  Maybe you've got some tired muscles too.  You don't have to be doing anything crazy to get sore muscles.  Maybe you picked something up wrong or spent 12 hours on your feet at work, or lugged a kid on one hip for far too long.  

However it happened, sore muscles are inevitable and lucky for us, there are lots of ways to deal with the pain before having to turn to medicine.  I believe there is a time and place for taking Ibuprofen or Tylenol but I've read some articles about the continued overuse of these medications.  So here are 10 ways to relieve the pain naturally.

1. Pain Relieving Cream

There several natural over the counter creams to choose from to help relieve aches and pains.  You might be familiar with Icy Hot which now sells a natural product.  You can also make your own cream using vitamin E cream and essential oils.  Check out the recipe HERE.

Why it works:  Pain is normally sent to the brain via the nervous system from nerve receptors and fibers around the injury.  These heating and cooling creams help to "trick" the brain into feeling the cooling sensation instead of the pain.   

2. Essential Oil Massage

Massage your achy muscles using oils such as Camphor, Eucalyptus, and Peppermint.  You can also buy specially blended oils for this purpose as well.  If it's in a reachable place, you can massage it yourself.  Or enlist your spouse to help you out.  If finances allow, you may even want to get a professional massage.

Why this works:  Massage helps to reduce inflammation, improve blood flow, and reduce muscle tightness.  Additionally, using the Camphor and Eucalyptus oils helps to increase blood circulation causing the "heat" sensation while the Peppermint lends a "cool" sensation again tricking the brain to feel the coolness instead of the pain.  

3. Ice packs/heat pads

Use a heating pad or a rice sack to apply heat to your muscles to help improve blood flow to the area.  Leave on for about 20 minutes and be sure to place a towel between the source of heat and your skin.  Check out this easy, inexpensive tutorial on how to make your own rice sock.  Conversely you can use an ice pack to help reduce inflammation or swelling.

yeah, mine is way old and crusty looking!
Why it works:  Using heat helps improve blood flow which helps reduce lactic acid buildup while using cold helps reduce inflammation.  Use cold therapy right after an injury occurs.  Heat therapy is best for longer term soreness.

4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

I hesitate to put this one on here because I have not tested it personally. But the articles are interesting.  If you don't already take Fish oil for your heart health, start.  If you do, up the dose for muscle pain.  It is best to take it throughout the day and do not exceed 4000 mg.  I have found several articles about using omega 3 to help reduce muscle pain.  This could even be a good replacement for Ibuprofen as it helps reduce inflammation.

Why it works: "The Journal of Sports Science and Medicine published a new study that shows fish oil supplementation can reduce the inflammation and muscle soreness associated with intense exercise."  Here are two articles that give a little more explanation.

Article 1
Article 2

5. Arnica Cream and Gel

I have only recently discovered this.  It's amazing.  One of my Aqua Zumba ladies suggested it to me after I struggled through a class from my sore back!  I have purchased both the Gel and the Cream though there are other products as well.  I have found I like to use the Gel right after class to immediately ease sore muscles.  I does wear off quickly though.  The cream is better for use at home when I can really rub it in well and it seems to last longer.

Why it works:  It is a homeopathic, natural product made of Arnica Montana, a daisy-like mountain flower.  The Arnica flower has been used since the 12 century to help aid in the relief of sore muscles and even bruises.  Here is the website for Arnicare - the product that I use.

6. Use of Braces

When my back was really bothering me, it helped to wear a lower back brace.  You could also use sports wraps to help support your injury or even consider magnet therapy braces.

Why it works: Braces help to support the tired/overused muscles so they can work on healing faster. Magnet braces are said to help relax capillary walls, boost blood flow to the painful area, and help prevent muscle spasms.

7. Ginger

OK ladies, apparently ginger supplements can be as effective as ibuprofen for relieving pain in women associated with their menstrual cycle!  As I type this I am sitting in the tub with a warm cup of ginger tea...

Why it works:  Ginger is a natural herb used for many purposes.  The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) describes more of the ways ginger can be use medicinally. 

8. Epsom Salt Soak

I have blogged about this before and it is probably the method I use the most.  It's so easy and cheap and really does relieve pain before bed.  I like to add lavender essential oil to the bath and play some praise music to get the full relaxing mood going.

Why it works:  Soaking in Epsom salt increases the magnesium levels in your body which are important to keep enzyme activity regular in your body, and help your bodily functions run smoothly.  It is hard to get enough magnesium from our diets.  In addition, it is said that magnesium can help detoxify your body.

9. Eat your bananas!

A great way to minimize the chances of getting sore muscles in the first place is to eat your bananas.  Eat one banana for every hour of exercise!

Why it works:  It's all about the potassium.  If you don't have enough potassium in your muscles will produce lactic acid buildup which will cause soreness and cramping.  This can happen with even just day to day activities. 

10.  R&R

Rest and Relaxation. Period.

Why it works: I know, it's obvious right?  If your muscles are tired and sore, give them a break!  That can be really hard sometimes, especially as a Zumba instructor but your muscles will have a hard time recovering if you don't give them a break!  So kick back, sit in the tub, and give 'em a break already!

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