Not all muscle soreness is the same. Acute muscle soreness is felt during or immediately after exercise. Delayed onset muscle soreness peaks 24 to 72 hours after exercise.

When it comes to muscle soreness, there are two types:

  • acute muscle
    soreness, also referred to as immediate muscle soreness
  • delayed onset
    muscle soreness (DOMS)

This is often described as a burning pain. It’s caused by a buildup of metabolites with the muscle during high intensity exercise. This type of muscle soreness resolves quickly.

This is the pain and stiffness you feel the day after you exercise. It stems from microscopic tears in your muscle fibers and the surrounding connective tissues during exercise.

This usually happens after you use your muscles in a way they’re not used to, like with a new or more intense workout.

The saying “no pain, no gain” has some truth to it. Gradually increasing the intensity of your workouts may help minimize muscle soreness.

As uncomfortable as it may be, don’t let the soreness get you down! You’re taking care of yourself — the longer you keep at it, the easier it’ll become.

Muscle soreness improves as your body gets used to exercise. If you need to take something to help with the pain, pass on the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Why? Well, it’s unclear whether NSAIDs have any effect on muscle soreness, despite being anti-inflammatory. And even when taken in low doses, NSAIDs can increase your risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, heart attack, and stroke.

Newer research suggests that acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be helpful.

Although more research is needed, some evidence suggests that you can get relief from muscle soreness by eating antioxidant-rich foods.

Watermelon, for instance, is rich in an amino acid called L-citrulline. Studies done in 2013 and 2017 suggest that this amino acid can reduce recovery heart rate and muscle soreness.

Other anti-inflammatory foods that have shown promise in treating muscle soreness are:

Curcumin is a compound found in turmeric. It’s high in antioxidants and has powerful anti-inflammatory effects, so it’s no surprise that it’s been shown to reduce the pain of delayed onset muscle soreness and speed up recovery after exercise.

Fish oil and other omega-3 fatty acids may offer similar benefits.

One 2017 study found that milk protein supplementation can help with muscle soreness and strength in exercise-induced muscle trauma.

Milk protein concentrate is a concentrated milk product that contains 40 to 90 percent milk protein. It’s used in protein-fortified foods and beverages, but can also be bought in powdered form at health food retailers.

Arnica has been used as a natural remedy for muscle soreness for years. It’s derived from the flower Arnica montana, whichis found in the mountains of Siberia and Europe.

Although more research is needed, one 2013 study found that topical creams and ointments containing arnica effectively relieved pain and inflammation brought on by intense eccentric exercise.

Applying heat immediately after exercising can reduce delayed onset muscle soreness. One 2013 study found that while both dry and moist heat helped with pain, moist heat was shown to offer even more pain reduction.

Excellent ways to enjoy moist heat therapy after exercise include:

Soaking in Epsom salts has been linked to reduced muscle pain and inflammation. The moist heat you get from sitting in a hot bath is an added bonus.

Cold therapy is said to relieve pain in muscles and joints by reducing swelling and nerve activity. You can apply cold using an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables, but soaking in a cold bath may be more helpful. (Just remember, never apply ice directly to skin!)

Foam rolling is basically a form of self-massage. Research has found that foam rolling can relieve delayed onset muscle soreness. It may also help with muscle fatigue and flexibility.

Foam rollers can be purchased wherever you buy exercise equipment.

To foam roll, you place the roller on the floor underneath the sore muscle and slowly roll your body over it. You can search online for videos on how to foam roll for different muscle groups.

Not only are massages relaxing, massage has also been found to alleviate DOMS and improve muscle performance. The results of one 2017 study suggests that massage is most effective when performed 48 hours after exercise.

Wearing a compression garment for 24 hours after exercise can reduce DOMS and speed up recovery of muscle function. Compression garments hold the muscles in place and increase blood flow for faster recovery.

You can get compression garments for most muscle groups. Types of compression garments include sleeves, socks, and leggings.

Don’t let muscle soreness stop you from exercising. Muscle soreness is a natural process that helps your body get used to the exercise. Once you induce this soreness, it won’t happen again unless you increase the intensity.

If the pain is severe, exercise at a lower intensity or switch to another muscle group for a day or two.

We often hear that stretching before and after a workout can help prevent injury and pain, but research actually suggests otherwise.

One 2011 study found that stretching had little to no effect on muscle soreness after exercise.

A 2012 study found that static stretches may inhibit muscular performance. Static stretching involves stretching a muscle to the point of minimal discomfort and holding it for a period of time.

Instead, opt for dynamic stretching where you repeatedly move your muscles and joints. Walking lunges and arm circles are great places to start.

Dynamic stretching prepares your body by increasing your heart rate, improving blood flow, and improving your flexibility.

A cool down after a workout helps your breathing and heart rate return to normal.

It can also help keep blood flowing to the exercised muscles, which can aid the repair process and potentially improve delayed onset muscle soreness. Cool down by walking or riding a stationary bike for 5 or 10 minutes.

Muscle soreness happens to beginners and conditioned athletes. It’s a natural adaptive response to new activity or an increase in intensity or duration.

You may still feel the burn of acute muscle soreness from exercise, but DOMS will improve as time goes on and your body adapts to your workouts.

Being mindful of your body and workouts is the best way to prevent future soreness and get the most from exercise.

Prepare your body for exercise by getting in an adequate warmup and cool down every time. Learn proper form and stick to a routine that gradually increases in intensity and duration to lessen soreness and reduce your risk of injury.

Moderate doses of caffeine may cut your post-workout pain down by almost 50 percent, so go ahead and have a cup of coffee before your workout. Just remember to hydrate with water afterward. Staying hydrated can also help reduce muscle soreness.

DOMS usually doesn’t require medical treatment and should resolve within a few days. However, you should see your doctor if your pain lasts more than a week or keeps coming back, or if you experience extreme weakness, dizziness, or trouble breathing.