Stiffness, muscle pain, feeling like a 90-year-old when you try to sit on the toilet — delayed onset muscle soreness is no joke.
Whether you like to hit the gym or sweat through a barre session like Openfit’s Xtend Barre, run outdoor trails or power through a quick HIIT workout at home, chances are you’ll end up with sore muscles at some point. (Although it’s okay if you don’t — you don’t need to experience muscle soreness to see results.)
For workout newbies and elite athletes alike, that post-workout pain can show up after a new or intense workout, often peaks on day two, and can last for up to four days. Ouch.
How to Relieve Sore Muscles
Delayed onset muscle soreness (aka DOMS) is actually caused by minuscule tears to your muscle fibers. It’s a normal part of the process — but while soreness may feel like a workout badge of honor, it’s not necessary for muscle growth. And compensating for sore muscles can increase your risk of injury, so it’s vital to know how to treat and relieve muscle soreness.
There are a few key strategies for preventing and relieving sore muscles:
- Heat and ice. They may be polar opposites, but both heat and ice can be beneficial for post-workout soreness. In a study of 100 healthy individuals between ages 20 and 29, researchers found that heat and ice were both effective for reducing muscle pain and preserving muscle strength after strenuous exercise. When applied immediately after a workout, heat was more effective than cold for preventing muscle damage. But when applied 24 hours after a workout, cold was more effective than heat in reducing muscle damage.
- Compression. While there’s not much evidence to support the claim that compression clothing can reduce inflammation, research suggests there may be some psychological benefit to wearing them — in a small study of highly trained athletes, participants reported a greater perceived recovery when wearing lower-limb compression gear for 24 hours after a workout. So when your muscles are aching, compression gear may offer some comfort.
- Massage therapy. Home massagers, foam rollers, foot rollers, vibration therapy, massage canes — there are myriad massage tools that can help ease your aches and pains. For the best results, don’t wait until the soreness sets in — studies show massage therapy after a workout may prevent stiffness and muscle pain from showing up in the first place.
- Stretch therapy. While it may not be the most exciting part of your workout, the benefits of post-workout stretching shouldn’t be overlooked. Stretching tools can help with flexibility, which is a key component of mobility and overall fitness.
No matter which strategy works best for you, there’s a product below that’ll fit the bill and help you recover so you feel ready to take on the next workout.
12 Products That Can Help Alleviate Sore Muscles
Here are some of our favorite gadgets, gear, and products to help you say adios to achy muscles.
GoFit Polar Roller Massage Bar (Amazon)
Part ice pack, part massage stick, the GoFit Polar Bar combines muscle manipulation and cold therapy to reduce soreness. Store the Polar Bar in the freezer and you’ll have a drip-free way to ice sore traps and hamstrings while also working out knots and tension.
TrekProof Hot & Cold Therapy Gel Wrap (Amazon)
This three-piece set includes two medical-grade gel packs, plus a pouch (with an adjustable strap) to hold the compress. The 10″ x 5″ gel packs are the perfect size for soothing everything from a sore back to tender calves. Pop a gel pack in the microwave or boiling water to loosen tight muscles pre-workout or to help with recovery immediately after exercise. Keep the other pack in the freezer so it’s ready to soothe any next-day soreness.
Under Armour Compression Leggings (Amazon)
True, the performance-boosting benefits of compression leggings may be mostly hype — but if you find them more comfy than average leggings when you’re recovering from a tough workout, this is a great all-around pair. These super-snug leggings are available for men or women, in a variety of lengths and designs, and in ColdGear or HeatGear fabric (for cold-weather exercise or sweat-wicking, respectively).
SB SOX Compression Foot Sleeves (Amazon)
These aren’t your grandma’s compression socks. These foot sleeves are lightweight, breathable, and provide arch and heel support for tired feet. Wear them with or without socks for support during or after your workout. (They’re available in ankle and knee-high lengths too!)
RumbleRoller Foam Roller (Amazon)
Foam rollers have become a must-have for any workout enthusiast thanks to their versatility — foam rolling can soothe sore muscles, release tension, reduce fatigue, and improve recovery. The textured design of this roller helps act like a deep tissue massage, improving circulation and helping you get those knots out.
truMedic InstaShiatsu+ Neck, Shoulder, and Full Body Massager with Heat (Amazon)
If you can’t schedule an actual massage, this at-home tool is a pretty good substitute. It features two bi-directional, rotating, multi-orbed knobs for targeted relief — plus three massage speeds and adjustable Velcro arm straps to customize your fit. While perfectly designed to knead knots in your neck and back, the massager can also be used on tight quads, hamstrings, calves, and feet. Use the optional heat button for an even more relaxing massage.
OPTP Original Stretch Out Strap (Amazon)
Gear doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective. Proof: This simple nylon strap allows you to stretch everything from hips and hamstrings to your lower back and shoulders in a portable, compact package. With 10 individual loops, you can grip at your current flexibility level and work up to greater mobility. Use the included guide to learn technique and placement to get the most out of your stretching. (Extra tall? OPTP also makes an XL version with an extra 12 inches of strap.)
Vive Foot Rocker (Amazon)
For foot, calf, and lower-leg soreness, this stretching tool helps provide a gradual stretch to increase flexibility and mobility. The footplate is designed with ridges for grip and correct alignment, while the bottom has rubber strips to keep you steady while you stretch.
Hyperice Hypersphere Mini (Amazon)
Studies suggest vibration therapy may help prevent and manage muscle soreness, reduce pain perception, increase range of motion, and improve blood flow. The Hypersphere Mini is a portable muscle-soothing powerhouse, combining vibration and myofascial release in one compact package. It’s small enough to pack in a carry-on or a workout bag, and the rechargeable lithium-ion battery provides up to two hours of treatment.
Body Back Buddy (Amazon)
The name might be a tongue-twister, but the product is actually pretty simple: With 11 strategically-placed knobs, the Body Back Buddy massage cane provides trigger point therapy on all your sore spots. Use the leverage of the cane’s S-shaped design to dig in deep to release knots and ease tight muscles in hard-to-reach areas like your back, hamstrings, and shoulders.
Natural Chemistree Foot Massage Roller (Amazon)
If you’re dealing with plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, or just too many hours (or miles) on your feet, your best bet is to see a doctor or orthopedic specialist — but in the meantime, this nubbed roller is designed to massage away aches and pains in your feet. While some foot rollers are narrower in the middle, this one is ergonomically contoured to be thickest in the middle, allowing constant contact with the sole of your foot. Use with socks for a milder massage, or go barefoot for deeper relief.
Recoup Fitness Cryosphere Cold Massage Roller (Amazon)
Compact and portable, this cold roller ball provides up to 6 hours of icy relief to soothe soreness. Pop it out of its base and roll it under your feet to relieve sore arches, or keep it in the base and use it as a massage roller.