Best Recovery Methods to Ease Muscle Soreness

Runners often have their own "miracle cures" they swear by to relieve leg soreness that can crop up after a difficult or long run. But what really works to cure those aches--and what doesn't? We asked experts for their take on popular methods so you can feel fresh-footed in a flash.

The Cure Refueling
The Verdict Do it

Hydrating post-run is critical. Dehydration slows down all recovery body functions. Drinking H2O replenishes both cell and blood volume and helps regulate body temperature, which can enhance recovery, says Allan Goldfarb, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

The Cure Ice bath
The Verdict Try it—maybe
Research on whether sitting in a chilly tub reduces post-run achiness is mixed—some studies report it helps; others say it makes no difference. Jason Karp, Ph.D., author of Running a Marathon for Dummies, says there is some evidence that cold water can lessen exercise-related muscle damage and inflammation, so it could benefit you after a particularly intense or long run (like a marathon) where your muscles have experienced the most damage. But if you're not up for the teeth-chattering treatment, don't feel compelled. However, "spot icing" to reduce pain and inflammation in an acute injury, like a twisted ankle, is smart.

 The Cure Stretching
The Verdict Try it
Post-run stretching has its merits--it can improve range of motion and flexibility. But just don't expect it to ease your pain, says Stacy Sims, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine. A Cochrane Summaries review of 12 studies reported that post-workout stretching reduced soreness by one point on a 100-point scale.

 The Cure Compression
The Verdict Try it

While they're not noticeably effective if worn immediately after exercise, one study in the Journal of Sports Sciences shows that compression socks can reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness if worn during a run. "They're especially effective for hill runs because the extra tightness reduces muscle load, decreasing post-workout soreness," says Sims. (Plus: Make sure to follow these 10 Golden Rules of Injury Prevention to avoid bumps in your training.)
The Verdict Skip it
Following a tough run that makes walking down stairs uncomfortable, you may take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, because they relieve painful inflammation quickly. But this actually impairs muscle growth, says Sims. Plus, NSAIDs can make you ignore cues that your body is fatigued. And if you push through soreness, you could further delay your recovery.

The Cure Massage
The Verdict Do it
A study in Science Translational Medicine found that massage boosts recovery because it helps decrease the activity of pro-inflammatory proteins in muscle cells and stimulates production of mitochondria, the power generators within cells. Try these Self-Massage Techniques for Athletes for your post-workout aches.
The Cure Active Rest
The Verdict Try it
A light workout the day after a hard workout or race will enhance blood flow to muscles and speed repair. Sims recommends yoga, aqua jogging, swimming, and cycling because these exercises don't use the same motion as running. A slow "shakeout" run is fine, but hoof it on a soft surface and take it slow and easy.
More: What to Do on Rest and Recovery Days
The Cure Sleep
The Verdict Do it
"This is the best recovery!" says Sims. The body releases a growth hormone during sleep, shifting repair processes into overdrive. Also, consider having a protein snack (a glass of low-fat milk, a handful of almonds) before bed. A recent study revealed that protein digestion and absorption is effective during sleep, helping stimulate overnight muscle repair. Now that's multitasking--your PR will thank you.


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