By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Jan 19, 2024
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Alice! Health Promotion. "How do I prevent and reduce muscle soreness?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 19 Jan. 2024, Accessed 24, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2024, January 19). How do I prevent and reduce muscle soreness?. Go Ask Alice!,

Dear Alice,

My husband is in an intensive training program to become a firefighter. He trains Monday – Friday. As a consequence, he is sore everyday. I know the best remedy for sore muscles is rest… but he doesn't get any. Is there anything else he can do?

— Concerned wife

Dear Alice,

I am an avid weightlifter. I want to know how to prevent muscle soreness, or flush out the lactic acid from my system. Thank you.

Dear Concerned wife and Reader 2, 

Dealing with muscle soreness? Fear not! Muscle soreness, or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), can be common among people who work out, from those avid weightlifters to firefighters. If you have DOMS, you may feel pain, tenderness, stiffness, swelling, as well as reduced muscle strength and range of motion. While it's true that resting the muscles helps overcome soreness, the good news is that there are other ways to prevent and treat soreness as well. Read on for more! 

The exact cause of muscle soreness is still unknown, but it's generally associated with damage to muscle fibers caused by stress to the muscles and muscle inflammation. Contrary to popular belief, lactic acid isn’t the main culprit because it’s usually gone from the muscles before soreness kicks in. You’re more likely to feel sore after new or unfamiliar workouts, increases in difficulty or intensity (also known as progressive overload), or eccentric muscle contractions (muscle-lengthening or elongation movements). 

That said, there are some things you can do to help prevent soreness. These include: 

  • Warming up. Warm-ups help loosen muscles, allowing them to stretch more when exercising. This can help to prevent injury and reduce soreness. 
  • Increasing weight gradually. Try to increase your activity (distance, intensity, time) by no more than ten percent per week. Working gradually can lower your risk of injuries from pushing too hard and help you keep up your form which also helps keep you safe from injury. 
  • Lifting mindfully. Lift slowly so you can focus on technique. Try to listen to your body and be aware when an exercise is causing any unusual pain. 
  • Cooling down. Add a cooldown at the end of your work that consists of more stretching or low intensity cardio to help regulate blood flow and reduce inflammation. 
  • Resting. Avoid overworking your muscles by allowing the muscle group you targeted at least 48 hours to recover and rebuild. 

List adapted from Mayo Clinic 

If soreness ends up setting in, there are some strategies you can use to help alleviate discomfort. These involve sleep, hydration, and nutrition, all of which play a crucial role in helping the body heal from activity of any intensity. 

  • Sleep: During sleep, the body repairs and builds muscle faster than during waking hours, leading to improved performance, pain sensitivity, and controlled inflammation. Getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night is recommended, especially for athletes, to make sure their bodies have enough time to heal. This will help them see progress from their hard work! 
  • Hydration: As you sweat, your body loses water. Dehydration often contributes to soreness, muscle cramping, headaches, and more, so it’s important to stay hydrated with water before, during, and after training sessions. 
  • Nutrition: A well-balanced nutrition plan with fruits, vegetables, plenty of protein, and complex carbohydrates can help muscles heal. Electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium can help reduce soreness, so you may consider adding electrolyte-rich foods or drinks into your meals. Polyphenol-rich foods can also decrease soreness as they have anti-inflammatory properties. 

Other common methods to relieve muscle soreness include compression therapy, active recovery, cryotherapy, massage, stretching, and taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). While compression therapy and active recovery have more evidence supporting their usefulness, it’s important to note that many of these methods have insufficient or conflicting research. That said, it’s recommended that you work with a personal trainer, physical therapist, or medical professional to find the safest and most effective option for your specific needs. 

Muscle soreness usually goes away on its own after 24 to 72 hours. If it lasts for longer or hinders everyday functions, it may be a sign of injury and you might consider visiting a health care provider for an assessment. You may also want to speak to a health care provider or registered dietitian if you’re looking to change your eating habits or workout regime. They can provide you with recommendations for what’s best for your body based on any injuries or pre-existing conditions you may be managing. 

Here's to some soreness-free training sessions! 

Additional Relevant Topics:

Nutrition and Physical Activity
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