Orthopedics Sports Injuries Overuse Injuries Print Treating Muscle Soreness After Exercise By Jonathan Cluett, MD Updated August 20, 2019 Medically reviewed by a board-certified physician More in Orthopedics Sports Injuries Overuse Injuries Tendonitis Sprains & Strains Fractures & Broken Bones Physical Therapy Orthopedic Surgery Osteoporosis Pediatric Orthopedics Shoulder & Elbow Hip & Knee Hand & Wrist Leg, Foot & Ankle Assistive Devices & Orthotics Medication & Injections View All Muscle soreness after exercise is a common complaint of many athletes. The medical name for this condition is delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS, and it is thought to be due in large part to inflammation of the muscle as a result of microtears of the muscle fibers. Treatment of sore muscles after exercise is focused on reducing the inflammation and allowing the sore muscle to heal properly. Some treatments recommended for muscle soreness have a scientific basis, others do not. Some are commonly performed by athletes, and may not have been well studied, but have many high-performance athletes that swear by these treatments. Here are some common treatments and the rationale for their effectiveness. Rest Jeannot Olivet / Getty Images The simplest and most reliable treatment for sore muscles is rest. Most people with muscle soreness will improve with no specific treatment within 5 to 7 days. Some simple activity, known as 'active recovery,' can be helpful during this phase of treatment. Active Recovery Getty Images / Christopher Futcher Active recovery means performing less intense exercise during the recovery phase from an aggressive workout. Active recovery can be beneficial both as a 'cool-down' from a hard workout or as a recovery in the days following a hard workout. Active recovery stimulates blood flow to the muscles, improves circulation in the muscles, and helps reduce muscle pain. Ice the Muscles nolimitpictures / Getty Images Treating inflammation with ice application is common, and most effective when initiated as soon after the onset of inflammation as possible. Ice application for muscle soreness is probably effective when initiated in the first 48 hours of exercise-induced muscle soreness, and probably less effective thereafter. Consider Massage Science Photo Library / Getty Images There have been some studies that demonstrate a benefit of massage in the treatment of muscle soreness. Massage is thought to stimulate blood flow to the area and to diminish swelling within the muscle. One technique that many athletes enjoy is called foam rolling. Form rolling is a type of self-massage where the athlete uses a high-density foam roll to place pressure on the muscles performing a type of myofascial release. Many athletes find this relaxes and stretches affected muscle groups. Gentle Stretching microgen / Getty Images Recent studies have shown that stretching probably does not make a difference in most athletes in preventing or reducing muscle soreness. That said, many athletes find that a stretching routing is their key to quick recovery, and there is no evidence that stretching is harmful or contributes to muscle soreness. If you want to try some gentle stretching, it may help, and can't hurt. Anti-Inflammatory Medications Sigrid Gombert / Getty Images Anti-inflammatory medications will help relieve some of the discomforts of muscle soreness, but will not affect the length of time for recovery of the muscle. Early administration of anti-inflammatory medications is most helpful. Heat Application Tetra Images/Getty Images The application of heat can help relax a tense, stiff muscle, and should be considered when recovering from delayed onset muscle soreness. When participating in active recovery, heat application before exercise can ensure the muscle is warm and loose. Topical Creams Eric Audras / Getty Images Topical creams include Aspercreme, BenGay, and IcyHot. These medications are called counterirritants. These medications do not actually warm the muscle, but rather cause skin irritation, redness, and warmth of the superficial tissues. While these topical applications can provide the perception of pain relief, they have no effects on the underlying muscle. The application of these topical creams is fine, but use caution as the medication can be absorbed into the body, and these should not be used with heat applications as severe skin burns can result. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Get exercise tips to make your workouts less work and more fun. Email Address Sign Up There was an error. Please try again. Thank you, , for signing up. What are your concerns? Other Inaccurate Hard to Understand Submit Article Sources Cheung K, Hume P, Maxwell L "Delayed onset muscle soreness: treatment strategies and performance factors" Sports Med. 2003;33(2):145-64.