Ever survive a particularly grueling workout and then had trouble getting out of bed, let alone walking, the next morning? Then you’ve experienced DOMS—delayed onset muscle soreness—a phenomenon that usually hits within 12 to 24 hours after exercising and peaks around 48 hours post-workout.
Massage has long been recommended as a remedy for muscle pain, but a March 2013 study shows that dragging yourself back to the gym for more exercise can actually relieve the soreness just as effectively as booking a masseuse at your favorite spa. (Granted, it’s a lot less fun.)
The study, published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, involved 20 women who did shoulder exercises to the point of soreness, and then returned to the lab two days later. Each woman received a 10-minute massage on one shoulder, and did 10 minutes of exercise on the other shoulder. Both activities helped diminish muscle soreness.
“There’s no miraculous pain reliever,” says exercise physiologist Janet Brill, Ph.D. “Both massage and active exercise can provide temporary relief from the soreness.”
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That’s good news for people who don’t want to spend the money or time getting a massage—the study indicates that a light workout at the gym or at home can have the same effect. “While a massage may be more fun, it isn’t necessary,” says Brill. “Active recovery at home is just as good.”
And that post-workout soreness that has you hobbling around town? As long as you’re not in extreme pain, soreness is actually a positive sign, notes Brill. “It’s your muscles adapting to what they’ve been exposed to,” she explains. “They’ve been shredded by the workout and are recovering and building.” So pat yourself on the back for that soreness—you’ve earned it!
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