Are tight and sore muscles keeping you from increasing your workout intensity, or, worse, sidelining you? After heavy exercise, it is important to replace lost fluids and minerals. Along with strenuous activity and overuse, other causes include poor posture, dietary deficiencies, and certain disorders. There are supplements you can take, however, to ward off aches and relax tense muscles.
Causes of muscle tension
Low levels of minerals known as electrolytes, such as magnesium, calcium, sodium and potassium, are a common cause of muscle aches. Magnesium is essential for hundreds of the body's biological functions. The Institute of Medicine recommends that adult women consume 310–360 mg of magnesium daily and that men consume 400–420 mg a day. (ref 1 ) Yet, a 2003 study in the Journal of Nutrition found that many adults consume far less than the RDA levels. (ref 2, paragraph 1). Tension can also result from overuse of specific muscles, postural problems, or a condition.
Although a balanced diet can provide adequate amounts of magnesium, calcium, and other minerals, you may not be getting enough of all of them. A suitable multivitamin can help ensure that you get the nutrients you need. Mineral supplements are also available in pill, tablet, or liquid form to target specific dietary shortfalls. Because magnesium absorption is affected by calcium, some products contain a combination of both. If your muscles cramp during or after exercise, taking along a sports drink can aid recovery by replacing lost fluids as well as potassium and other electrolytes.
Arnica: an age-old remedy
Arnica, which is derived from the Arnica montana plant, has been used for centuries to treat muscle aches, sprains, bruising, and strains. It is usually applied to the skin and smoothed over tense areas. There are many different arnica-based creams, ointments, gels, salves and lotions. Research has shown that arnica fights inflammation of the muscles and ligaments. One study showed that for ankle sprains, arnica ointment or gel was as effective as diclofenac in treating pain and inflammation. (ref 3 ) The plant itself is toxic if eaten. Homeopathic remedies contain highly diluted doses of the herb.
Preventing aches with soothing baths
A soothing soak is another way to head off muscle cramps. The body can absorb essential minerals, such as magnesium, through the skin. Add half a cup of Epsom salts (the active ingredient is magnesium sulfate) to warm bath water the night before a strenuous workout or to relieve tight muscles. A persistent ache may be a sign of something more serious. Speak to your doctor if the pain continues, worsens, or spreads. Talk to your healthcare provider before taking any vitamin, supplement, or herbal remedy to find out which one is right for you.
- National Institutes of Health: Magnesium
- The Journal of Nutrition:Dietary Magnesium Intake in a National Sample of U.S. Adults.
- International Journal of Clinical Practice: Traumeel vs. diclofenac for reducing pain and improving ankle mobility after acute ankle sprain: a multicentre, randomised, blinded, controlled and non-inferiority trial.