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Ask an Expert: Do Heating Pads After a Workout Help Reduce Muscle Soreness?
Some like it hot- specifically sore muscles. We asked our Fitness Expert Kristy Wilson to share how heat helps alleviate post-workout pains.
Kristy Wilson, NSCA, NASM: Whether you're just starting to exercise or are a bona fide gym rat, post-workout soreness is bound to happen once in awhile; especially when starting a new exercise program.
Soreness is the body's response to adapting to something new. It is a normal reaction to unusual exertion. However, feeling sore after a workout isn't a measure of effectiveness. There are lots of factors that can come into play including the quality of the warm up and cool down, intensity of the workout, pre and post-workout nutrition, and even how much you've slept.
Post-workout muscle soreness is commonly referred to as DOMS- delayed onset muscle soreness. After finishing a workout we may feel a little tired, but over the next 12-24 hours the soreness sets in. When we exercise we are placing stress on our muscles, actually causing small microscopic tears (this is a good thing since it leads to a stronger regrowth!). Along with inflammation, these cause the muscle soreness and discomfort known as DOMS.
Rule of thumb: when it comes to sprains and pains use ice, but heat when it's muscles that are sore. (Ice is better for acute injuries, especially if there is swelling and bruising. You can also use ice on sore muscles in the acute stage. But for chronic muscle soreness lasting more than a few days, heat is better.)
To reduce soreness, take a long, relaxing soak in a warm bath (bonus points for adding epsom salt). But since bath time at work isn't a viable option, try using a heating pad. Heat helps warm our muscles, increasing blood flow to the area. Heating pads ease muscle soreness by applying low heat, directly to the source of pain. Leave on for about 20 minutes, and be sure to place a towel between the pad and skin to avoid potential burns.
If soreness persists after 7 days or sudden, severe muscle pain is felt, consult a doctor.