Pushing your limits in the gym leads to solid gains, but it can sometimes, unfortunately, lead to pulls, strains, and other injuries. When you feel any type of pain in your muscles, tendons, or ligaments, it’s time to put down the weights and heal your body.
This doesn’t mean popping a pill. Instead, try some of these alternative ways to manage acute and chronic pain. Why go sans the pills? Adam Graves, N.D., LA.c. and founder of Colorado Natural Medicine, says that pills like Advil can help with inflammation in the short-term, but they don’t help muscles heal and recover in the long-term—and that’s the end goal when it comes to keeping the body healthy and free of aches and pains. Here are the 10 best natural ways to relieve your aches.
1. Visit a chiropractor
If you are dealing with sharp or chronic nagging pain, it may be best to pay a visit to a chiropractor to check things out before you go crazy with yoga and foam rollers. “There are a lot of different referral pain patterns, and chiropractors are trained at musculoskeletal care and other clinical diagnosis,” says Chris Bantock, D.C. “This means they can figure out how things should be treated from the least invasive to the most invasive way.”
2. Ice baths
Dipping into some ice-cold water can be part of your pill-free treatment. An ice bath acutely calms down inflammation in joints and muscles. It works by constricting blood vessels, which pushes the blood to your core, and then that blood returns to your muscles when you get out and move around. “The coldness pumps all of the toxins out of your muscles, and then, as you warm up, you can deliver more oxygenated blood and nutrients back into those muscles,” says Graves. “The quicker you can get nutrients back in, the less soreness you’re going to have.”
3. Arctic Ease Instant Cold Wrap
Get the best of both worlds—cold therapy and compression—with a reusable wrap that won’t freezer-burn your skin. The Instant Cold Wrap provides several hours of relief from pain and inflammation caused by muscle cramps, sprains, overuse injuries, and bruises. The best part: You don’t have to refrigerate it. Keep the canister in your gym bag and break it out after you’ve pushed it too hard in the gym.
4. Anti-inflammatory diet
You can’t get away from healthy-diet advice. Inflammation is at the root of all pain, so eating plenty of whole foods will help cut down on the discomfort from the inside out. Think lean meats, like fish and chicken, fruits and vegetables, nuts, and seeds. “With real food, you’re getting nutrients that provide your body with what it needs to heal, such as vitamins and minerals that are found in most plant-based foods,” says Graves.
If you want to get adventurous with your pain management, acupuncture can be a solid option. When you insert needles into the body, you can release endorphins, which naturally ease pain. Graves says there are certain points to target in order to work with the body’s own pain mechanisms. It’s thought that by focusing on those specific points, acupuncture can change the way your body perceives pain.
6. Foam rolling
There is a method to the foam-rolling madness that you see at the gym. Pain can come from adhesions, scar tissue, or repetitive use, and the body has to heal this with collagen. Bantock says the foam roller helps to smooth out and realign most of the fibers in the damaged tissue and promote collagen growth.
7. Epsom salt baths
When you’re in pain, it’s time to man up and take a bath. Epsom salt baths, which are essentially magnesium baths, soak the muscles to help dilate blood vessels, which then release some of the waste products. This relaxes the muscles, cuts down on tension, and allows you to stretch out a little bit more post-bath.
8. Kinesiology tape
If you want to manage discomfort while staying active, you may want to consider taping up your pain points. “When you put it over muscles, it creates a slight friction on the skin, which helps the lymph nodes drain more efficiently, giving the muscles better circulation,” says Graves. It can also be placed over strained joints and tendons to act as a mild brace. Generally, the tape helps increase circulation and muscle relaxation.
9. Manual therapy
If you think you have scar tissue due to something like repetitive lifts, overuse of your muscles, or a sports injury, manual therapy or the Graston Technique might be a method to check out. The procedure involves rubbing a stainless steel instrument along the skin (on the area causing pain). “The assisted soft tissue manipulation helps break up that scar tissue that could be causing joint restriction and therefore pain,” says Bantock.
Flexibility is the golden ticket to managing pain. “Athletic men and weekend warriors in particular deal with injuries such as shoulder or back issues and tendonitis,” says Graves. “As they age, their muscles heal up tighter, so they are always pulling or aching and that’s where flexibility and stretching come in.” To combat this type of pain, incorporate some variety of stretching into your routine. This can be in the form of anything from deep tissue massage to yoga.