When you have stiff or sore muscles, it’s tempting to pop a painkiller to ease the discomfort and allow you to get on with your day. But painkillers – even the kind sold over the counter have risks. Acetaminophen based pain relievers can cause liver damage, even in small doses. While Ibuprofen based pain pills have been associated with an increased risk of stroke and internal bleeding – again at the low doses which are supposed to be safe.
It’s easy to assume that these drugs are harmless because they’re widely available without a doctor’s prescription, but that’s a mistake.
There are good alternatives to painkillers for many conditions, and sore muscles are one of the conditions where natural remedies can take the misery away without causing any further harm. Painkillers should always be the last resort when dealing with pain, never the first.
Even when muscle pain strikes when you’re out and about there are plenty of remedies that you can use. And it’s always a good idea to have a little home remedy kit in your car, gym locker or desk at work, so that you don’t have to wait until you get home.
Long-term muscle stiffness has a negative effect on quality of life and its cause should be investigated to rule out any underlying health conditions. If you develop sore, stiff muscles and you can’t attribute the cause to recent physical activity, then you should visit your doctor and get checked over.
What Causes Muscle Soreness And Stiffness?
Muscle stiffness refers to the inability to move without pain, or the loss of the full range of motion of the affected body part. Stiffness is caused by inflammation and the inflammation may also affect the joint close to the painful muscle.
The most common cause of muscle stiffness is due to carrying out physical activity without stretching properly first, or from injury caused by an ill judged or accidental movement.
Sore muscles can also be the result of the general wear and tear of aging, and conditions like arthritis and rheumatism.
Other reasons for muscle stiffness can be alleviated somewhat by making lifestyle changes.
If you’re overweight or obese, then your joints and muscles are under a great deal of strain which will be eliminated if you can lose the extra weight.
Stress can cause muscle tension. Finding ways to destress, like meditation or self hypnosis can help to relax your muscles and take the pain away.
Past injuries that didn’t heal properly can cause pain. Seeking help from a chiropractor or massage therapist can often help to heal longstanding injuries.
The following natural treatments for sore, stiff muscles, will all bring relief from pain and help your aching muscles to relax.
Lavender Muscle Rub Or Soak
Lavender essential oil has been used for centuries as a muscle relaxant. Its anti-inflammatory properties help to relieve congestion and swelling in and around the muscles, while its calming, sedative properties help to relieve stress and tension, which relaxes you overall.
Lavender can be used in several ways to relieve muscle pain.
This essential oil is one of the few essential oils that can be used in an undiluted form. Take a few drops of lavender oil and rub the liquid into the affected muscle.
Or, you can add one teaspoon of lavender essential oil to a hot bath. The warmth of the water will increase blood flow to stressed muscles and relieve aches and pains, while the relaxing fragrance of lavender oil will rise up with the steam and promote relaxation throughout your whole body.
A hot bath with lavender essential oil is especially helpful before bed, as the sedative properties of lavender will help to give you a good night’s sleep, and sleep is the time when your body carries out most of its repair work.
Combining a lavender muscle rub followed with a lavender soak one hour later, will bring you the most effective relief from this remedy.
Lavender essential oil is known to be an excellent remedy for muscle pain, stiff joints, arthritic pain and rheumatism.
Rosemary is another herbal treatment that can work wonders on stiff, aching muscles. It’s a natural muscle relaxant and anti-inflammatory and is particularly effective for cramped muscles caused by menstruation. This aromatic herb also relieves fluid retention around affected muscles and reduces inflammation. If you suffer from muscle pain due to arthritis or rheumatism, rosemary will help to bring relief. Rosemary also stimulates blood flow which promotes healing.
Rosemary can be used as a dried herb – the ordinary culinary herb – and as the very concentrated and potent essential oil.
When used with a warm compress rosemary essential oil brings extra warmth to the muscle which allows the muscle to release tension and stretch out again. Take a clean washcloth and place it in hot water, squeeze it out just a little and add 6 drops of rosemary essential oil onto the cloth. Apply to the affected muscle. Once the cloth has cooled down, place it back into the water. The rosemary will infuse into the water and you can now reapply the warm compress. Even though the rosemary is more diluted. it will still work.
Add rosemary essential oil to a warm bath for a muscle relaxing soak. Use 1 teaspoon of rosemary essential oil and mix it into your bath water.
Combine a few drops of rosemary oil with a dessert spoon of olive or coconut oil and use it as muscle rub several times a day.
Use dried rosemary to make a muscle relaxing tea. Steep 1 teaspoon of dried rosemary in one cup of hot water for 10 minutes. Cover the cup while the tea steeps to prevent the steam from escaping. Drink 3 times a day.
Calcium and Magnesium
When calcium and magnesium are imbalanced tense muscles are the result. This can make it much more likely that you’ll injure your muscles in the first place. Replacing magnesium will relax muscles that have tensed or cramped due to this imbalance.
You’re unlikely to have a deficiency of calcium, but magnesium deficiency is very common, with around 80% of the population estimated to have a less than adequate intake of this vital mineral. One muscle that is seriously affected by lack of magnesium is your most important muscle – your heart, so it’s crucial that you have a good intake.
Good sources of dietary magnesium include squash, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, almonds and cashew nuts, dark chocolate (with over 70-80% cocoa solids) and green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach and swiss chard.
Supplementing with magnesium is another good way to correct a deficiency and taking a magnesium supplement is a very quick and easy way to relieve cramping muscles.
You should look for the following forms of magnesium supplements:
- Magnesium glycinate is considered to provide the highest levels of absorption and bioavailability.
- Magnesium chloride only contains about 12% magnesium but it is in a very bioavailable form and delivers more of the mineral to your body than magnesium oxide, which contains 5 times as much magnesium.
- Magnesium citrate is magnesium mixed with citric acid. It’s well absorbed and is also the best form of magnesium to take if you need a little help with a bowel movement.
In addition to magnesium, potassium is also an important nutrient for preventing muscle cramps. Bananas are a great source of that particular mineral.
Epsom Salt Soak
Epsom salts (also known as magnesium sulfate flakes) have been around forever and are the foundation of all of the commercial muscle soaks. Save money and get the most potent form of this type of remedy by purchasing plain old epsom salts.
When you add epsom salts to a warm bath, the warm water helps to stimulate blood flow, while the magnesium is absorbed through your skin, and gets to work on the root cause of tense muscles. Magnesium will also draw excess fluid away from the area and reduce inflammation and swelling.
Fill a bathtub with warm water.
Add 2 cups of Epsom salt and stir to dissolve.
Enjoy a relaxing soak in the bathtub until the water cools.
Chamomile is an ancient remedy that helps to treat muscle pain and soreness. Chamomile is very calming and relaxing, and it’s an excellent anti-inflammatory. It also promotes restful, restorative sleep.
A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that that drinking chamomile tea was effective for relieving menstrual cramps as it relaxed the muscles of the uterus.
Chamomile tea bags are widely available in supermarkets and are generally good quality. Steep one tea bag in hot water for 10 minutes. Drink throughout the day.
In addition to chamomile tea, chamomile is available as an essential oil. It comes in two forms – German Chamomile and Roman Chamomile. German Chamomile has the greater anti-inflammatory properties of the two as it contains more azulene.
To use Chamomile essential oil, mix 8 drops in one dessert spoon of carrier oil and massage into the affected area, 3 times a day
Stretching your muscles before and after exercise or other physical activity helps to prevent muscle injuries. Stretching is also a powerful way to relieve any muscle tension caused by exercise or overuse. By gently stretching the muscle and warming it up, you help to draw out lactic acid. Lactic acid contributes to muscle tension and pain. It might seem like stretching is the last thing that you want to do to a sore muscle and while it will hurt at first, it is one of the best muscle relaxing remedies.
Massage is a very effective way to increase blood flow and remove lactic acid from tired aching muscles. It’s also very soothing and relaxing. Research shows that when you’re relaxed, pain is greatly subdued.
If you have someone at home willing to offer you a massage, then take them up on it! Otherwise you can have a massage therapist come to your home, or you can purchase a variety of massage cushions and chair inserts, which do a very thorough job.
Cayenne Pepper Cream
Cayenne cream is the perfect pain reliever for your mini first aid kit. The capsaicin in cayenne pepper is an antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. It relaxes muscles, brings relaxing warmth to the area and stimulates blood flow to speed up healing.
Capsaicin has been found to reduce pain by preventing the activation of the brain’s pain transmitters. A study published in the British Journal of Anesthesia reports that topical application of capsaicin cream is effective for pain management.
You can buy cayenne cream in health food stores and online, or you can make your own version.
Mix 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper powder (paprika) with 2 tablespoons of warm olive oil. Massage the cayenne oil onto the affected area and repeat as needed.
Catnip – Nepeta cataria – is a member of the mint family which is best known for the happy reaction that it induces in felines. However, it has uses for us too and was a common medicinal herb in the past, before widespread pharmaceuticals were available. As an antispasmodic, catnip is a natural muscle relaxer. While it produces an excited reaction in cats, in humans it brings about a relaxed calm feeling. Catnip should be brewed as a tea.
You can purchase catnip as a powder or you can grow a plant in your yard or on your patio, to keep a supply handy.
Tart Cherry Juice
Montmorency, or tart cherries are potent anti-inflammatories and have beneficial effects on muscle pain and arthritis.
A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition reports that tart cherry juice taken for 7 days before and during a strenuous running event helped to reduce muscle pain.
Drinking tart cherry juice throughout the day will help to reduce muscle inflammation and stiffness. It’s a good addition to any of the other remedies on this page.
The menthol in peppermint is anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and analgesic (pain relieving). While the menthol in the peppermint produces a cooling feeling on the skin, it actually improves circulation and stimulates blood flow to the area to promote healing.
Peppermint can be used a dried herb and made into a flavorful and fragrant tea, or used as an essential oil, in muscle rubs and warm baths.
The best peppermint leaves to use for tea are those that you have grown yourself, and mints are very easy to grow. Your plants will come up year after year with little effort on your part, although given their vigorous, sprawling nature you should confine mint plants to patio containers or to a bottomless bucket buried in the ground. Cut mint in the summer before it forms flower spikes and hang bunches up to dry. Once the leaves are fully dry, crumble them into storage jars.
This form of the dried herb will contain the highest amounts of the beneficial oils that promote healing. Mint teas available in supermarkets are very poor quality in comparison.
To make peppermint tea, steep 1 teaspoon of dried mint in a cup of hot water for 10 minutes. Cover the cup to prevent the steam from carrying away the volatile oils while it steeps.
You can drink as much peppermint tea as you like, it’s very safe.
To use peppermint essential oil, mix 4 drops of the oil with a dessert spoon of carrier oil and massage into the affected muscles.
Valerian is a well known remedy for muscle pain. Used since the middle ages it used to be called “All Heal” because of its wide range of medicinal uses. Valerian contains a similar but different compound to the active muscle reliever in catnip – Actinidin. Valerian is used in pharmaceutical preparations as a relaxant.
Valerian is very effective in treating the pain of sciatica and menstrual cramps, and its sedative effect promotes healing, restorative sleep.
Valerian essential oil can be mixed with a carrier oil and used as a muscle rub or added to bathwater.
You can also take valerian root tea several times a day. Steep 1 teaspoon of dried valerian root in one (covered) cup of hot water for ten minutes.
While generally used to treat bruising, arnica is also a natural muscle relaxer. It reduces inflammation and increases blood supply to damaged areas to speed up healing, while its pain relieving properties ease discomfort.
A study published in the European Journal of Sport Science, reported the positive effects of topical application of arnica on pain and muscle damage after intense exercise.
You can easily purchase arnica creams and ointments or you can use arnica essential oil.
Arnica essential oil should be mixed with a carrier oil before use. Use 4-6 drops of arnica oil and massage into the affected area several times a day.
Ginger is a spice that brings warmth to sore, strained muscles and reduces inflammation and pain at the same time.
Ginger is very versatile and can be enjoyed with foods, made into a tea, used on a warm compress, added to a hot bath or applied topically.
To use in a warm bath ginger works best if combined with epsom salts – especially for cramping muscles. Add 2 teaspoons of ginger spice powder or 6 drops of ginger essential oil to a warm bath along with 2 cups of epsom salts.
For a tea, use fresh ginger root. Grate 2 teaspoons of fresh ginger into one cup of hot water. Let the ginger steep for 10 minutes, then strain to remove. Add a little honey and lemon juice to improve the flavor and enjoy.