Okay, I've been known to overdo it with my workouts from time to time. Sore and tight muscles go hand-in-hand with active lifestyles. But I'd much rather deal with the problem of relieving sore muscles than the multitude of problems associated with living a sedentary life.
Truth be told, recovery from my muscle pain isn't as easy for me as it was 20 years ago. We can still maintain our strength and flexibility as we age, but our bodies require a little more time in between intense workouts. Our muscles need to be stretched, hydrated and manipulated more often. I recently turned 49, and this is becoming more evident to me with each birthday.
Shamefully, I admit, I am also guilty of cutting my post-workout stretching routine short. I will often do a brief 3-5-minute stretch, because bottom line, I am in a hurry.
To make up for a short stretching session, I've adapted a regular program I do at home for self-release of tight and sore muscles. I live by the words of the (great) late Stephen Covey, "I am not a product of my circumstances; I am a product of my decisions." Whatever your situation is, you can make a choice to keep healthy and injury-free. I now take 10 minutes when I get out of bed or 10 minutes during the evening news to relieve my muscle pain with self-therapy massage. It's now a daily habit.
So what do I do for those 10 or so minutes? For me, it's one of these three methods. All three techniques are easy, affordable and accessible. (No waiting around for your next special occasion or vacation to benefit from a massage.)
Foam Rolling -- Foam rollers are my go-to tool for self myofascial release, a technique you can do yourself to break up fibrous tissue, boost circulation, and increase the flexibility of your muscles. It's like getting a massage without the expense of a massage therapist. Once reserved for use in Pilates classes or with physical therapy, foam rollers are now mainstream in the gym, and are an inexpensive form of homeopathic relief. These spheres are typically six inches in diameter but come in different densities from Styrofoam to high-density foam and EVA foam rollers. The firmer the roller, the more intense your session will be.
WHAT I DO: I regularly roll out my hips, quads, calves, IT bands, and back on my bedroom floor. I'm constantly showing members at the gym how to use a foam roller to help release tension and improve mobility. For example, how many of you have tight or stiff hips and legs after your cardio workouts? Roll over your tight spots and stop when you find a tender point. Hold for a few seconds and then release. Repeat several times over the same spot and you can get more relief than just doing a few stretches. I go for the high-density foam, which provides firm and total body support and relieves muscle tension. It's that "hurts so good" feeling. Want to know more about rolling? I'll show you my foam rolling techniques here.
Self-Massage -- My kids wanted me to rub their backs every night when they were little. I enjoyed doing it because it was a chance for me to talk with them in a calm quiet environment. As they got older, they wanted me to massage their sore legs or shoulders after sporting events. Most of us love a relaxing massage, but my family members aren't as willing to reciprocate. With my crazy schedule, making an appointment for a massage often gets forgotten. But I still want to get the pain relief a massage provides. (Pain relief is just one of many benefits of massage.) Beyond relaxation and improved circulation, massage is the ultimate in unplugging, and, according to the Mayo Clinic, we know that massage can reduce stress, and treat stress-related insomnia, anxiety, headaches and sports-related injuries.
I've also noticed that I'm not the only one who loves massage because almost every electronics store advertises self-massagers for the holiday gift-giving season. Self-massagers are less expensive than a single hour-long session, and they make massages accessible and convenient. The key is a quality massager that can actually get in deep if that's what you are looking for. Look for a massager where you can customize the settings, with interchangeable heads and control the intensity of the massage and I think the key is also a long handle so you can reach your own back.
WHAT I DO: I love the relief from a deep tissue massager (one that I can use myself) that really gets into the muscle instead of being superficial. Back to the schedule thing, I am more apt to be consistent when I can control the process myself.
Trigger-Point Therapy -- Tightly-contracted areas of muscle that cause pain in other parts of your body are called trigger points. These areas are commonly referred to as knots. According to Pain Science, these small patches of knotted muscles sometimes cuts off its own blood supply leading to additional pain. Trigger point therapy is treatment to the specific trigger points to relieve pain in surrounding areas. For example, someone might have a trigger point in their neck that is causing headaches. Treat the trigger point and you treat the headache. You can use a massage ball for targeted trigger point therapy by applying pressure and releasing knots in your feet, calves, glutes, low back or shoulders... places where you feel a knot but a foam roller surface is too big to get in deep.
WHAT I DO: I use a massage ball because you can apply targeted and firm pressure directly to the affected area. A tennis ball is often too soft, a lacrosse ball too hard... and massage balls are made for the right amount of pressure. I also stick my massage ball in my suitcase when I travel, and it seriously saves me on business trips.
No longer do you have to feel like your muscle pain is something you just need to tolerate in order to have an active lifestyle or just because you are aging. And the absolute key to treating sore muscles, improving flexibility and preventing injury is consistency. People always think if they don't stretch, massage or roll directly after their workout, it isn't effective. But that isn't necessarily true. Adapting some form of routine at home that you do regularly might just be the relief you are looking for! Read more about how massage can benefit your body. Let me know your treatment of choice! I'd love to hear from you.