How to Manage Sore Muscles and Joint Pain

You work hard all week, so when the weekend finally rolls around, you want to play just as hard. There’s nothing like a few rounds of golf, a hike in the mountains, or an intense workout at the gym to help you feel recharged.

But all of that exercise can cause soreness and stiffness that shows up a day or two later. Don’t get sidelined by muscle pain. Find out the causes and treatments so you can stay on your game.

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What’s Causing My Sore Muscles?

It’s normal to have sore muscles after you work out, play sports, or even do housework, especially if:

  • You did something you’re not used to, like running a marathon when you normally jog just a few miles.
  • You suddenly kicked up your exercise intensity level or increased the length of your workout.
  • You did unusual exercises that lengthen instead of shorten your muscle, like walking downhill or extending your arm during a bicep curl.
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These changes to your exercise routine can lead to tiny injuries in your muscle fibers and connective tissue. About a day later, you’ll start to feel sore.

“We call that ‘delayed onset’ muscle soreness,” says Ethel Frese, PT, associate professor of physical therapy at St. Louis University. “It peaks within about 48 hours, and then it will gradually get better.”

The good news is that when you do the same activity again, your muscles will start to get used to it. “You will actually have no soreness or less soreness because now you’ve strengthened the muscle or connective tissue,” says Allan H. Goldfarb, PhD. He’s a professor and exercise physiologist at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

What’s Causing My Joint Pain?

When your joints feel sore and achy, that’s usually a sign of osteoarthritis. This inflammatory condition becomes more common as you get older. The cartilage that normally cushions the joints wears away, leaving the joints inflamed and painful.

Joint pain can also be caused by overuse or injury, for example, tennis elbow or a knee injury caused by problem with a ligament or meniscus. Ligaments are bands of tissue that connect bones in your body. A meniscus is a rubbery disc that cushions your knee.

Treating Sore Muscles and Joint Pain

One big question a lot of people have when they’re nursing sore muscles is whether to use heat or ice. Experts say indirect ice — an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel — is best for immediate relief.

“Heat will feel good while it’s on, but it’s not going to lessen the damage or make it go away anytime soon,” Frese says.

Goldfarb suggests you ice the sore area right after the activity to cut inflammation. Then use heat later to increase blood flow to the area. Heat also can help relieve joint pain.

If you get sore muscles once in a while, you can take acetaminophen(Tylenol) or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve)to help ease the discomfort. Just be cautious about using NSAIDs regularly. Long-term use can interfere with your muscle’s ability to repair itself, Goldfarb says.

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Check with your doctor or pharmacist about any interactions these over-the-counter drugs may have with other medications you take. Also, you may need to avoid some medications if you have ulcers, kidney disease, liverdisease, or other conditions.

Sometimes soothing sore muscles requires more than an ice pack or over-the-counter pain reliever. Muscle pain that comes on quickly and feels intense is a sign that you’ve injured yourself. Call your doctor if your pain is severe or lasts for more than a few days.

How Do I Prevent Sore Muscles and Joint Pain?

Experts used to recommend stretching before a workout to prevent sore muscles. But research shows that stretching ahead of time doesn’t do much to prevent soreness or injury. Frese says it’s better to get in a good warm-up before you exercise. Stretch later, when your muscles are already warm.

A couple of natural substances are touted for preventing sore muscles, including antioxidants like vitamin C. But check with your doctor before taking high doses of any vitamin. Serious exercisers might find relief from post-workout soreness by taking in some protein. A study of marines found that protein supplements helped sore muscles after intense exercise.

Ease Into Exercise and Check With Your Doctor

One of the best ways to prevent sore muscles is by easing your way into your exercise routine.

“Start off with lighter exercise and gradually build up,” Frese says.

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If you have a medical condition or you’re unsure about your health, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. He can help you find an exercise routine that’s safe and effective for you.

When you have joint pain, you may be tempted to curl up in bed. One of the best things you can do for your joints, though, is to exercise. “Our joints need to move to get nutrition,” Frese says. Weight-bearing exercises can help strengthen the muscles that support the joint. Just watch that you don’t exercise to the point of pain.

It also can help to work with a physical therapist, who can show you how to exercise safely and how to keep good posture so that you don’t get injured or worsen joint pain.

30 Greatest Flat-Belly Tips of All Time

Drink and Still Shrink

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The liver processes alcohol before other carbs and protein, and the sheer presence of alcohol in the body slows fat burning, says Diane Henderiks, R.D., personal chef and founder of Dish with Diane. You can still hit happy hour, just stick to one drink—that’s 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces beer, or 1 ounces of a spirit—a day.

Chill the ^*&% Out

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Anxiety produces extra cortisol, the hormone that encourages the body to store fat—particularly in the abdominal region. Practicing deep-breathing exercises has been known to help alleviate stress levels, so hit the “pause” button in your mind every hour and take five to 10 deep-belly breaths, inhaling for five counts and exhaling for 10 counts.

Chow Down

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Eating too little will force your body into “starvation mode,” which will cause it to store added fat for energy (out of fear of not being fed) rather than burning fat and keeping your belly taut, Henderiks says.

Keep Cardio in Check

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Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, which means the more you have, the faster your metabolism is and the more calories you burn all day long—all key for a whittled middle. Resistance training builds this quality lean muscle, so do two to three total-body strength sessions a week, says Tom Holland, exercise physiologist and author of Beat the Gym: Personal Trainer Secrets Without the Personal Trainer Price Tag. For fat-melting cardio, all you need to do is your weight, he adds: If you’re 145 pounds, do 145 minutes a week, broken up however fits into your schedule—say, 60 minutes Saturday, 45 Tuesday, and 40 Thursday.

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Get Wholed Over

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In a Penn State study, dieters who ate whole instead of refined grains lost more fat from around their midsections. And Tufts University researchers reported that people who included three servings of whole grains and less than one serving of refined carbs daily had 10 percent less visceral fat than those who didn’t follow this diet.

Work Every Angle

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When doing an abs circuit, think about all three planes of motion, says celebrity trainer Gunnar Peterson, who works with Sofia VergaraKim Kardashian, and Vanessa Lachey: Try crunches and reverse crunches to hit your sagittal (front to back and up and down) plane, standing side bends for frontal (side-to-side) movement, and chops or twists for transverse (rotational) action. This will help challenge and therefore define your abs.

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Gulp Green

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Multiple studies show that EGCG, an antioxidant in green tea, helps boost metabolism and may specifically target abdominal fat. Most research has used high doses of tea, but even if you can’t manage to guzzle gallons, any amount is beneficial.

Hit Snooze

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Not only can a lack of zzzs slow your metabolism, a 2012 study showed that people who were sleep-deprived had subcutaneous fat cells (the ones right below your skin) that were more insulin resistant, which can lead to weight gain, says Patricia Bannan, R.D., author of Eat Right When Time is Tight.

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Hit the Herb Rack

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Watch the Sugar, Mama

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Research shows the average American eats about 20 teaspoons of sugar daily, often hidden in processed foods, including “healthy” ones such as yogurt, frozen dinners, sauces, and salad dressings. Twenty teaspoons adds up to 325 empty calories a day, and insulin production increases with sugar intake, which can slow your metabolism, making it harder to burn those empty calories. Read labels and try to reduce your intake as much as possible.

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Follow the 10-Percent Rule

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While no crunch in and of itself will get rid of belly fat, abdominal exercises are the “finishing moves” to sculpt the abs once you’ve removed excess fat via diet and exercise, Holland says. Spend the majority of your workout focusing on the rest of your body, and dedicate no more than 10 percent of your time on abs work. So if you work out for an hour, plan six minutes of abs exercises and give the rest of your time to strength training and/or cardio.

RELATED: The next time you work your core, try this killer 5-minute abs workout.

Go Big or Go Home

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At the gym, focus on movements that work bigger muscle groups and multiple muscle groups (such as squats and lunges) instead of isolation movements (such as leg extensions and leg curls). These exercises burn more calories, which will help torch more body fat so your sexy abs come out of hiding, Peterson says.

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Simplify Supper

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Eat only protein and leafy green vegetables for dinner—and no dessert or nighttime snacks—to avoid holding water when you wake up, especially in the days leading up to your beach weekend, Peterson says.

Do the Write Thing

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Keeping a food journal is an easy way to control your weight and help you become more aware of any belly-bloating triggers, Bannan says. Write down what you’re eating and how your stomach feels throughout the day, and you might discover what isn’t treating your tummy kindly. Ask yourself: Do I feel gassy? Am I overfull after just a few bites of certain foods? Does my stomach make sounds or feel swollen following specific meals?

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Pump Up the Potassium

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Your body can retain water when your sodium and potassium levels are out of whack, Bannan says. In addition to keeping sodium in check, consume potassium-rich foods to maintain the balance and de-puff your belly. Try incorporating 1 medium baked potato without skin (610mg), 1/2 cup white beans (595mg), 1 cup cooked spinach (839mg), 10 dates (466mg), or 1 cup edamame (676mg) daily.

Be Proactive

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If your stomach’s natural bacteria fall out of equilibrium, it can slow down your digestion and lead to bloating, Bannan says. Live active cultures in yogurt and probiotic drinks can help rebalance your levels, so aim for one serving a day.

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Vacuum

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Peterson has his clients work up to holding a plank for 1 minute. Then they progress to performing vacuums during the exercise: Suck in your abs like you’re trying to button jeans that are too tight. Hold for 3 counts, then release for 3 counts. Repeat until the end of your plank. You’ll have to build back up to a minute, but it’s worth it, Peterson says.

Avoid Fried Foods

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The fat in fried foods is digested more slowly, which can cause you to feel heavy and puffy, Henderiks says. And who really wants to chow down on greasy mozzarella sticks while wearing a teeny bikini?

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Make a Mad Dash

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Throw intense, high-speed intervals into your usual cardio workout, and you’ll burn the same or more total calories in a shorter amount of time—and the harder you push it, the more calories you burn after your workout, Holland says, meaning the fat will melt off to reveal your abs. Peterson recommends adding sprints of 10, 20, and 30 seconds and recovering for two to three times that long. Bonus: You can “sprint” on anything: treadmill, bike, rower, swimming, elliptical—you name it.

Fatten Up

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Monounsaturated fats—such as those in olives, nuts, and avocados—appear to increase fat oxidation, especially dreaded belly pudge. Plus they can help you stick to your diet, as fat is filling and adds flavor to your meals, Bannan says. All fats are high in calories, though, so stick to two or three servings a day and watch those portion sizes!

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Roll (Up) With It

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A classic Pilates move, the roll up is 38 percent more effective at targeting the rectus abdominis (the “six-pack”) and 245 percent more effective at targeting the obliques than a basic crunch, according to an Auburn University study. To do it, lie face-up with legs straight, ankles, knees, and thighs together. Flex feet and extend arms overhead. Inhale to prepare as you lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the floor. On your exhale, continue to roll up by drawing in abdominals, reaching arms up and over toward feet. Keep abdominals contracted, with spine rounded in a “C” curve. Pause and inhale. On your exhale, roll down through each vertebra in a controlled movement, keeping heels pressed evenly into the floor the entire way up and down. Do 15 reps as controlled and precise as you can, as many days a week as possible.

Get on the Ball

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Your coworkers who sit on Swiss balls may look a little odd, but this trick makes you engage your abs, Holland says. Try lifting one or both legs every half hour or so, which will work your core stabilizer muscles even more as you try to balance.

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Put the Petal to the Metal

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Include the bicycle in your abdominals workout, Peterson suggests. A 2012 study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) found this exercise to be the most effective move for strengthening the rectus abdominus, the long, flat muscle extending the length of the front of the abdomen. Do 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps three times a week.

Stay Conscious of Carbs

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Carbohydrates take water to metabolize, and too much fluid can make you feel bloated, Henderiks says. But that doesn’t mean you have to ban all carbs from your diet. Opt for complex, starchy, and fiber-filled ones such as sweet potatoes, brown rice, legumes, oats, leafy greens, and asparagus, which are more slowly digested, and try to limit your daily tally to about 200 grams.

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Ditch Diet Foods

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Sugar alcohols such as sorbitol and mannitol are used as sweeteners in diet products—and they produce gas in the intestines, Henderiks says, which can make you balloon.

Push Yourself

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Peterson is a fan of Chaturanga Dandasana—a.k.a. yoga pushup—for the extension and isometric contraction it provides: From plank, bend your elbows and begin lowering toward the floor, with every part of your body an equal distance from the floor. Keep your elbows close to your body, abs engaged (not clenched), back straight, thigh muscles active, and glutes soft. Start by holding the pose above the floor for 5 full, complete breaths, and work up to 10. Push back up to plank in 4 counts. Do 4 reps every other day.

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Sneak in a Mini Abs Workout Anywhere

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Drawing your navel in toward your spine provides isometric training for the abdominals, meaning the muscles aren’t lengthening or shortening, but there is tension on the muscle fibers. Do it in the shower, at work, wherever!

Laugh It Off

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Having a good LOL causes your abs to contract, Peterson half-kids. Obviously that’s not all you need to do for an A-list midsection, but it’s definitely an excuse to have some fun!

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Shake Your Salt Habit

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Your body needs some sodium to function, but too much can lead to fluid retention in the gut, Henderiks says. Put down the shaker and forgo processed and prepared foods as much as possible in favor of homemade meals so you can control the salt. Experts recommend maxing out at 2,400 milligrams of sodium a day, but this is one time when less is better.

Don’t Be an Airhead

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