It may sound ironic, but it’s a fact that exercise can be the cure or the cause of stiffness. You may have noticed that for yourself. Maybe you wake up one morning barely able to move after an intense session at the gym the day before.
On the other hand, maybe you find your sore hip or creaky knees feel rejuvenated after a few yoga classes or lunchtime walks.
It’s really not as mysterious as it seems. Just changing the way you work out can help relieve the stiffness you already feel, and prevent you from developing future aches and pains.
Follow these tips so you can stay fit and enjoy more comfort.
- Understand the cause. That achiness that starts several hours after a tough workout is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). You may have heard that it’s caused by lactic acid building up, but experts now believe it has more to do with inflammation. In this case, inflammation can be beneficial because the muscle grows bigger and stronger as it repairs itself.
- Pace yourself. You can exercise effectively without giving up comfort if you work your way up gradually. That means increasing the intensity or length of your workouts by about 10% or less per week.
- Limit eccentric contractions. Another important factor in DOMS is eccentric contractions, where the muscle lengthens under pressure. Take extra care with movements like running downhill or lowering weights.
- Wait it out. If you’ve already discovered that you were a little too enthusiastic at the gym, keep in mind that DOMS is usually harmless. You’ll probably start feeling better in about 3 days.
- Find temporary relief. While there is no cure for DOMS, there are many ways to reduce the symptoms. Experiment with sports massage, foam rollers, and other methods to see what works for you.
- Build strength. If you’re hesitant about working out because you think it will aggravate arthritis and other conditions, think again. Strong muscles support your bones and take stress off your joints. Lift weights or do bodyweight exercises like pushups and dips.
- Extend your range of motion. Movements like shoulder rolls and leg lifts will help keep your joints flexible and reduce your risk of falling. Add them into your daily routine.
- Choose low impact activities. To stay safe, focus on movements where you can keep one foot on the ground. Swimming is another way to protect your joints while you burn calories.
- Lose weight. If you’re carrying around some extra pounds, that extra weight could be contributing to your discomfort. Take a load off your joints by slimming down with a balanced diet and regular exercise.
- Move more. There are plenty of opportunities to burn more calories regardless of whether you have a gym membership. Go for long walks or do yard work manually.
- Try physical therapy. If you’re looking for a natural alternative to surgery and prescription drugs, a physical therapist may be able to suggest exercises that will loosen up your joints and muscles. They can also show you how to perform your daily activities more safely.
- Talk with your doctor. While a little muscle soreness after an intense workout is rarely a cause for concern, there are times to see your doctor. That includes anytime you notice swelling or sharp pain during or after working out, and addressing questions about how exercise could affect any specific conditions you might have.
Knowing how to deal with stiffness will help you stay physically active so you can lead a longer and fuller life. Exercise regularly, and increase the intensity of your workouts gradually so you can say goodbye to soreness and stiffness.