In the episode, How to Recover After a Workout, you learn that excessive soreness is generally an indication that you either increased volume or intensity far too quickly in your exercise routine, or that you did not recover properly.
But there’s another reason that you can be sore after a workout, or simply sore as you move about your day-to-day routine even if you haven’t exercised recently. Today you’ll find out what that is and you’ll also learn the top 6 sore muscle remedies that will help you recover faster after a workout and fix your post-workout soreness.
Can Muscle Knots Cause Soreness?
We’ve all felt it at one time or another – that deep achy spot on some muscle of your body, which we affectionately call a “knot.” No matter how much you stretch, how well you warm-up or cool-down, or how many pills you pop and healthy foods you eat, that knot simply won’t go away. For many people, knots tend to form in the upper neck or shoulders; for others, the calves or quadriceps tend to be the issue.
The muscle knots are simply areas where your connective tissue or muscle has spasmed or cramped, and in some cases, it can also be an area where you’ve formed immobile scar tissue from an injury or from overworking a specific muscle group. These areas of painful, rigid tissue that form in your muscles, tendons, and ligaments block circulation and cause pain, inflammation, and limited mobility. Regardless of how the knot got there in the first place, the important thing to know is that it’s not going to go away on its own. And what’s more, if you simply ignore it, the knot can often make your post-workout soreness and discomfort even worse!
Deep Tissue Work
This is where deep tissue work comes in. “Deep tissue work” is simply an umbrella term for any type of stimulation that works deep into your muscles and connective tissue. When your body has chronic tightness and tension or an area with a history of injury or overuse, you get the muscle knots you just learned about.
Deep tissue work is simply the act of physically breaking down these knots, usually with direct deep pressure or friction applied across the grain of the muscles. At the same time that knots are broken down by deep tissue work, blood flow to the affected area is enhanced and voila – your soreness subsides.
When it comes to deep tissue work, different strokes work for different folks (quite literally), but the following is a list of some of the more effective methods for increasing mobility or reversing pain and injury in endurance athletes:
Deep Tissue Option #1: Rolfing
Compared to the other deep tissue methods, Rolfing focuses almost exclusively on the connective tissue sheath that surrounds your muscles (called your fascia). During a typical Rolfing session, you lie down and get guided through specific movements during an initial “structural integration” session. Your Rolfer then manipulates your fascia over a course of ten 60- to 90-minute sessions. I question whether the ten sessions are more of a business model than a therapeutic necessity, but if fascial adhesions are your problem, then Rolfing is a great solution.
Deep Tissue Option #2: Advanced Muscle Integrative Technique (AMIT)
AMIT is something I first talked about in my podcast Dr. Two Fingers Reveals His Teeth-Gritting, Body-Healing Secrets, in which I interviewed Dr. Craig Buhler, the guy who invented AMIT. AMIT is based around the fact every tissue in your body is saturated with proprioceptors, which monitor and control every aspect of your body’s function. This complex system of receptors monitors tension, pressure, movement, stretch, temperature, energy fields, and compression. If you get injured or have a high amount of inflammation in a certain area, these receptors become protective, and shut off function or mobility in that area.
Interestingly, sometimes a lack of mobility in an area is due to a muscle near that area being injured (such as a quadriceps injury resulting in lack of mobility in the hamstring). AMIT is based on restoring proprioception by applying deep pressure on specific proprioceptive areas of the body. And as I alluded in the title of the aforementioned podcast, it is a bit uncomfortable. But it’s also highly efficacious if your lack of mobility is due to a previously injured area.
Deep Tissue Option #3: Muscle Activation Technique (MAT)
MAT is based on the same concept as AMIT. But rather than improving mobility via pressure or kneading, MAT begins with a series of range-of-motion (ROM) testing, followed by specific exercises (usually isometrics) to address any deficient areas of ROM. For example, if after a long time riding a bike, you might find that your neck and head gets “stuck” in forward position, a MAT therapist might then fix that by having you perform an isometric contraction with your head backward to try and bring you back to center.
Deep Tissue Option #4: Graston Technique
Graston employs a collection of 6 specially-shaped stainless steel tools to palpate your muscles and tendons. Although they look like something out of a medieval torture chamber, the curved edges of Graston instruments allow them to mold to different contours around your body, making for ease of treatment, minimal stress to the your therapist’s hands, and maximum tissue penetration. Graston actually comes in quite handy if you’re trying to break down scar tissue from an earlier injury or get rid of knots from muscle overuse. Although getting your IT bands “scraped” may sound painful, I’ve had many of my clients get a nearly instant cure from Graston.
Deep Tissue Option #5: Trigger Point Therapy (TPT)
Trigger points are hyperirritable spots in your muscles that you can usually feel to be tight, taut, or hard (aka, the knots we talked about earlier). Trigger Point Therapy is based around the idea that pain frequently radiates from these points of tenderness to broader areas, sometimes distant from the trigger point itself (such as a trigger point in the underside of your armpit referring pain to the front of your shoulder). By applying pressure to these knots, you can release the pain and restore mobility. There is actually a Trigger Point Therapy store where you can get instructions, along with special shaped rollers and other devices for doing your own TPT.
Deep Tissue Option #6: Sports Massage
In the episode How Quantum Physics Can Heal the Body and Enhance Performance, I interviewed my favorite deep tissue sports massage therapist on the face of the planet – Herb Akers, from Sacramento, CA. Herb runs the website Rules of the Matrix, and calls his special flavor of deep tissue work “Quantum Connective Healing.” This technique combines nutritional therapies, breathing, and deep tissue massage to restore mobility or eliminate injuries.
Deep tissue massage is designed to relieve severe tension in the muscle and the connective tissue, and unlike Swedish massage or some of type of relaxing massage therapy, it focuses on the muscles located below the surface of the top muscles. Pressure is applied to both the superficial and deep layers of muscles, fascia, and other connective tissue structures, and these sessions are way more intense than just about any other form of massage you’ve ever experienced (I usually cry like a baby when Herb works on me). But despite the come-to-Jesus moments you’ll experience during deep tissue massage, it is very effective at restoring mobility.
So those are my top 6 sore muscle remedies. But here’s the best part about deep tissue work: if you don’t have the time or money to hunt down any of the remedies I mentioned above, but you have a willingness to learn and the self-motivation to put yourself through a little discomfort, you can do much of this yourself.
I personally used to get in a car and drive to a massage therapist every single week until I learned how to do my own therapy with a golf ball, a hard, ridged foam roller with which I have a love-hate relationship (check out this video of me using the Rumble Roller), a series of lacrosse balls strung together (a Myorope), and rolling pin-like device called a MuscleTrac.
Ultimately, these 6 sore muscle remedies (or simply working on your muscle knots yourself) can make you feel like a new person, whether your body is beat up from a single workout, or from years of exercise. If you have more questions about sore muscle remedies, then join the conversation over at Facebook.com/GetFitGuy.
Sore Muscle image from Shutterstock