You’ve done it, you’ve got off the couch and finished that run! Whether it’s a gentle recreational run, a 10k or a full marathon, post run soreness can be part of the journey. It’s just your muscles adapting to the additional demands placed upon them, which is good!
There are some tried and tested steps you can take, that help to ease post run soreness. Here’s a few from our Sports Therapist, Tom.
It may seem obvious but resting from physical exertion will allow sore muscles time to rebuild. However, there is a big difference between complete rest and active recovery. Complete rest can result in decreased range of motion and prolonged soreness. Active recovery is defined by a light workout comprising of lower intensity and volume which facilitates the removal of waste products and restores normal resting length of muscles. For example, a runner with sore legs may opt for 30 minutes on a static bike at a steady pace.
- Sports Massage
Muscle soreness following a run can be effectively eased with massage. The massage techniques used will decrease exercise-induced inflammation, improve blood flow and reduce muscle tightness. Sports massage can also have an effect on the nervous system by down-regulating it to allow the muscles to relax. Manual therapy techniques can stimulate the lymphatic system which helps drain swelling and by-products of exercise out of the damaged muscles. Increased blood flow to these areas will bring new nutrient-rich blood to facilitate the repair phase following intense exercise.
- Self-Myofascial Release
Performed using tools such as foam rollers, trigger point balls, massage sticks, etc. Similar to massage, this technique allows you to self-treat by targeting the muscles that need it most. You will be able to ease inflammation, improve blood flow and restore the normal resting length of muscles. Read more about foam rolling here. If you want to learn more, why not come along to one of our monthly foam rolling practical workshops.
- Food & Hydration
You can utilise a few simple nutrition strategies to restore homeostasis and facilitate muscle repair. Eat high-glycemic fruits and starchy vegetables following exercise to replenish glycogen stores in muscles. Antioxidants present in these foods can also aid tissue repair and recovery. Eating foods high in protein (such as eggs) can enhance energy production and stimulate protein synthesis, which repairs damaged muscles from intense training. Fish oils (omega 3) also contain anti-inflammatory properties which will help ease post-race soreness.
A reduction in hydration of only 2 percent is enough to have detrimental effects on maximal strength and athletic performance due to a drop in blood plasma volume. This limits the amount of nutrients and energy received by the working muscles. Drink frequently throughout the day to keep yourself hydrated and reduce the risk of delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS).
Make sure you get between 7-8hours of sleep each night. Sleep is important as it not only restores brain function and alertness, but it also regulates growth hormone release and protein synthesis. Your muscles do all their repair work whilst you sleep, so getting enough shut-eye is crucial when training. During the restorative phase of sleep your blood pressure drops, breathing slows and blood flows to the muscles and soft tissue that need repair.
Specific garments can be worn during and after intense exercise to reduce the amount of residual inflammation in working tissues. We know that muscles are damaged when we exercise, this damage causes inflammation which can also irritate nerve endings and result in prolonged pain/soreness. The idea behind compression is to limit the space available for soft tissues to swell with inflammation, thus reducing pain levels. Compression with movement will also facilitate the removal of waste products and inflammation out of working/damaged tissues.
It is well established that heat can be a great pain-reliever. Applying heat to sore muscles can encourage a relaxation effect. The warmth will also vasodilate blood vessels allowing for nutrient-rich blood to be brought to the area that needs repair.
You may be surprised to hear that stretching isn’t as effective at easing muscle soreness as you may have thought. Think about it this way; the most traumatic form of muscle contraction is an eccentric one. This occurs when you contract a muscle over a period of time whilst it is lengthening, for example the lowering phase of a bicep curl. This muscle has been damaged (on a microscopic level) by a lengthening-based exercise. You are then attempting to ease that soreness by stretching the muscle, which is only lengthening it further. Also noteworthy is the role of the central nervous system, which uses pain as a protective signalling mechanism to prevent the same movement from occurring again. Stretching a painful area is likely to produce a larger nervous system response resulting in increased pain levels.
A review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2011 concludes that stretching does not ease soreness following exercise.
Herbert RD, de Noronha M, Kamper SJ. Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD004577. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004577.pub3.
A golden rule to follow when considering ice vs heat for different situations is this; ice for acute, traumatic injuries to be used predominantly for pain relief and not much else. Heat is to be used for chronic, dull, achy pain such as joint stiffness or muscle tightness.
When applying ice to an injured area it can cause blood vessels to constrict, limiting blood flow to the area. We need a good blood supply for muscles to regenerate and repair. Ice also causes muscles to tighten which seems to be the opposite effect when searching for muscles relaxation and relief of soreness. A systematic review and meta-analysis of 36 articles published in 2015 suggests that ice (cryotherapy) provides little or no significant effect in the treatment of exercise-induced muscle soreness.
Hohenauer E, Taeymans J, Baeyens J-P, Clarys P, Clijsen R (2015) The Effect of Post-Exercise Cryotherapy on Recovery Characteristics: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS ONE 10(9): e0139028. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0139028
If your soreness doesn’t ease after a few days or you are in pain as you think you may have picked up an injury, do get it checked out. The sooner you get an expert diagnosis of what’s going on and a specific recovery plan, the less time you’ll have off running!