Posted: May 13, 2014 7:00 AM
 
Amping up your fitness routine is exciting — until your muscles start screaming at you. No matter how you switch up your fitness routine, new movements or higher intensity versions of your favorite workouts can leave your muscles feeling sore and tender. Try a few quick home remedies for minor aches, and listen to expert advice about when to consult with a doctor.
Photo credit: Dirima/ iStock/360/ Getty Images

Meet the experts

Deb Kucera, PT, MSPT, Director of Therapies at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital and Colleen Sullivan, PT, DPT, answered questions about how to treat and monitor muscle soreness and exercise-related pain. Physical therapists are great people to see if you need to rehab an injury, but they're also a great resource for learning simple techniques — like stretching — that can prevent serious injuries from occurring.

Heat versus ice

Heat should be avoided after a long run. It doesn’t have to be a tub filled with ice cubes, but if you want to limit inflammation and soreness, a cold bath around 55 degrees F will do the trick… if you can stand it.

After a tough workout, sinking into a swirling, hot Jacuzzi might sound wonderful, but it's not the best way to soothe your sore muscles. Deb Kucera recommends something a little cooler. She says, "Hop in an ice bath. Heat should be avoided after a long run. It doesn’t have to be a tub filled with ice cubes, but if you want to limit inflammation and soreness, a cold bath around 55 degrees F will do the trick… if you can stand it." Heat might be more appealing for short-term relief, but keeping your muscles from becoming inflamed means a quicker recovery, so you'll be back to your fitness routine more quickly.

Common areas of complaint

Back pain and hip pain are two of the most common areas of complaint when people are worried about soreness. Colleen Sullivan talks about ways to alleviate muscle soreness in both areas, with a reminder of the way the human body is an interconnected series of muscles and joints — sometimes a painful muscle is caused by stress on a different part of the body.

Lower back pain^

Sullivan says, "After exercise, especially if you are new to it, you may experience lower back pain, even though you weren’t necessarily working out those muscles. It might seem weird, but it actually makes perfect sense. Your hamstrings are connected to the muscles in your lumbar spine. If your hamstrings are tight, your back will take the brunt of the force. To remedy this, stretch your hamstrings. One simple way to stretch your hamstring is to sit on the ground, legs spread. Reach toward one toe at a time to give those hamstrings a deep stretch."

Hip and Thigh Pain^

Runners are one of the largest groups of people to notice hip and thigh pain after a change in their routine, but IT band issues can plague any kind of exercise-goer. Sullivan says, "As the weather gets warmer, lots of people will be transitioning from the treadmill to the street. They may feel pain or soreness on one side of their hip or thigh. That’s because their bodies are used to the flat surface of the treadmill, and most real roads are curved. Imagine running with one leg in the gutter — that’s what’s happening, but less dramatically. First, use a foam roller to massage the affected side. This massages the IT band, which is the culprit behind the pain. Second, you want to strengthen the muscle connected to the IT band. When this muscle is weak, you’re at a much greater risk of feeling sore. Try laying on your unaffected side and doing scissor kicks with your affected leg. This will give you a nice stretch and strengthen that muscle."

When stretching isn't enough

Don't ignore your body's warning signs — pain beyond soreness can indicate a real problem.

Even cold baths and stretching can't prevent all injuries. Getting an injury treated when it's new will make healing a little faster and possibly less painful. Don't ignore your body's warning signs — pain beyond soreness can indicate a real problem. Sullivan recommends, "If you are experience significant swelling for two days or more, you should definitely see a doctor. Same goes for constant sharp, shooting pain. Also, if you experience numbness or tingling that won’t go away, that is a huge red flag. That means your spinal cord or a nerve is being compressed, and is definitely reason to seek help."

Listen to your body

Enjoy the motivation brought on by sunny days and pick up your fitness routine. Making strides in your overall health is exciting and will have effects in other areas of your life, like your energy levels and quality of sleep. Still, listen to your body and treat it kindly. You won't see any results if you're sidelined on the couch after ignoring your body's signals that it needs a little extra care.

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