You ramped up the intensity of your workout, and now you're feeling the pain. Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, can strike any muscle in your body, but when you feel the pain in your legs every time you stand up or walk, it seems a little worse.
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This soreness typically occurs if you started a new workout routine or boosted the intensity of what you already do, such as going from running on flat surfaces to running hills.
When you work your muscles extra-hard, the fibers break down a little bit — but that's a good thing. As the muscles repair themselves, they grow stronger. Of course, that doesn't help much when you feel like you can't move, so take a few measures to soothe your sore and stiff legs.
Read more: Should I Still Workout If I'm Sore?
You don't want to stretch before a workout, but it should be the first thing you do once the workout is over. When you workout, your muscles contract and the muscle fibers shorten.
By stretching, you're lengthening the muscle fibers. You don't need to spend a lot of time stretching — a 2011 study found that it didn't have a significant impact on DOMS — but it will promote flexibility and feels good in your muscles.
Use a Foam Roller
In a perfect world, you could get a professional massage every few days. Unless you have an unlimited budget, though, you'll have to stick to something a little closer to home: a foam roller. If you have sore and stiff leg muscles, roll each major muscle group around five times, spending extra time on the painful spots.
Ice, Then Heat
For ice packs to do their job, they should be applied immediately after a tough workout. Therefore, if you worked yourself harder than normal and suspect you might be in pain the next day or two, be proactive and apply ice to the muscles that you worked the hardest. This reduces blood flow to decrease inflammation and numbs sore tissue.
When the soreness actually sets in, though, heat will be your best friend. Draw a hot bath or ease yourself into a hot tub to help increase blood flow to promote healing, help muscles relax and decrease pain. You can also press a heating pad against the affected area.
Ease Back Into Exercising
If the pain is really bad, you might want to call it quits on your workout routine — but resist the temptation. While you shouldn't go back to working as hard as before, light exercise will actually make your muscles feel better without causing any additional damage. Try gentle yoga, a short jog or a swim workout — but don't feel guilty if you take a rest day.
Read more: Top 5 Most Effective Leg Exercises