Not all sore muscles are alike, as you might have discovered after a particularly grueling workout. Your legs are, after all, in constant use, so you might feel the pain a little bit more strongly than if other parts of your body felt pain.
If those muscles are really sore — the way they get if you've, say, blown them out doing leg presses or other exercises that put the hurt on you from the thigh down — you may be in search of sore muscle relief
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Heat or Ice?
It's common knowledge to apply heat or ice to relieve sore leg muscles, but which is best? There's a lot of confusion (and debate) on the subject but the answer seems pretty straightforward: Either will do.
In a 2015 study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, leg muscle soreness was induced in 100 men and women, who did three rounds of squats, with each round lasting five minutes. Afterward, they were divided into three groups. The first received no therapy and experienced a 24 percent loss in muscle strength.
Those receiving hot and cold therapy showed only a small drop — 4.5 percent — in muscle strength. The study found that heat works slightly better right after exercise, while cold shows some advantage at 24 hours. For more intense muscle spasms, alternating the two in 20-minute sessions may help the muscle relax.
Foam Roll Your Legs
Massage might seem like an expensive luxury, but if sore leg muscles are slowing you down, a massage can help you get back to productivity much more quickly. Massage increases blood flow to muscles, relieving tension in the fibers and reducing inflammation, likely the cause of much of your suffering.
However, there's nothing written in the sky that says you can't massage yourself. Self-massage through foam rolling can address trigger points and other snags in your musculature, as well as stimulate the lymph glands.
Use a foam roller to massage your hamstrings, glutes and calves. The American Council on Exercise recommends rolling the muscle slowly over the foam roller, spending 30 to 60 seconds on your sore spots.
Soothe With Balm
There are numerous strong-smelling ointments and balms containing substances like camphor, menthol or capsicum — ingredients called counter-irritants—that are applied topically to sore muscles after a workout. They're widely believed to increase blood flow to the area, and maybe they do.
But they actually work because the ingredients cause inflammation in the area surrounding the pain point, eliciting a hot or icy sensation from the nerves around the area that's in pain. That sensation distracts you from the pain. Do not apply heat to an area that's been rubbed with a balm. The combination could cause a burn or rash.
Consider OTC Pain Relievers
There's nothing wrong with going to medicine cabinet to treat sore leg muscles, but it's helpful to know your over-the-counter pain medicines. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) may reduce some of your muscle pain, but it doesn't reduce inflammation, which is the source of most muscle soreness.
More effective are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve) or aspirin. Be sure to check with your doctor before taking medication. Also, these meds can be a bit rough on the tummy, so be sure to take them with food.
Read more: How to Ease Muscle Soreness after a Workout