Stiffness or soreness in your muscles doesn't have to be a part of your workout routine. While some minor stiffness is natural, excessive stiffness or soreness that lasts for more than a day can be an indicator that you're overdoing it during your exercise routine, which could lead to serious injury. Relieve or eliminate your muscle stiffness by following a simple steps.
What Causes Muscle Stiffness?
Muscles can become stiff from both inactivity and overuse. During inactivity, your muscles are often restricted, which can cause them to tighten up over time. Sitting in an office chair is a common cause of stiff muscles in the neck and back.
Conversely, too much exercise and activity can also cause stiff muscles. In this case, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can cause stiffness and soreness for 24 to 72 hours after you've exercised, becoming debilitating to your daily routine. The pain is caused by the natural tearing and healing process that your muscles undergo during strenuous exercise, but excessive stiffness can indicate that you've pushed yourself a bit too far during your workout.
Avoiding Stiff Muscles
The best treatment for stiff muscles is preventative — avoid symptoms of muscle stiffness using a careful exercise plan that prevents DOMS. Whenever you're starting a new exercise routine, increase the intensity of your workout slowly and pay attention to the way your body feels. If you're stiff for longer than 24 hours, dial back the intensity of your workout until your body is recovering properly.
Increased Blood Flow
Increased blood flow to your muscles can help alleviate stiffness and soreness. To increase blood flow, some low to moderate intensity exercise can help loosen stiffness and encourage the healing process for torn muscle fibers. Massage therapy is another proven treatment for muscle stiffness. A massage therapist can encourage blood flow to stiff muscles, loosening them up for your next workout.
Stretching After Exercise
As it turns out, stretching hasn't been found to be an effective preventative measure for muscle stiffness. However, it can help relieve stiff muscles after exercise. A stretching routine that incorporates static or holding poses can help you build your flexibility, discouraging stiffness. It's best to stretch right at the end of your workout, when your muscles are warmed up and flexible from your workout routine.
Diet and Nutrition
Proper diet, nutrition, and hydration are essential for preventing symptoms of stiffness and soreness. Some foods offer additional benefits to prevent DOMS, including water, which contains a special amino acid called L-citrulline, which encourages increased blood flow to your muscles. Cherries contain a phytonutrient called anthocyanin, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Finally, a diet high in protein can help your muscles rebuild faster after an intense workout. With these foods and a healthy post-workout routine, muscle stiffness will be a thing of the past.
- ACE Fitness: Myths and Misconceptions: Muscle Soreness
- ACE Fitness: Why Do Muscles Tighten Up?
- ACE Fitness: When is the Best Time to Stretch?
- ACE Fitness: If My Muscles Are Sore From Previous Workouts, Is It Safe to Exercise Them?
- ACE Fitness: Foods that Fight Muscle Soreness
- Human Performance Laboratory, University of Vermont: Treatment and Prevention of Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness