No Pain… Still Gain: Natural Ways to Relieve Muscle Pain & Cramps

ROSS-Bailey-headshot

by Ross Bailey


Muscle pain relief is on top of almost everyone’s list. Whether this need for natural muscle pain relief is brought on by long days at the office, or by delayed onset of muscle soreness from physical activity, muscle pain is not only… well… painful, but can also reduce the overall quality of life. Similarly, muscle spasms and cramping can also bring painful instances of muscular contraction which can be debilitating if they are recurrent.

Thankfully, there are many natural ways to provide muscle pain relief and muscle cramp relief. There are also various supplements that can be used to reduce muscle pain, fatigue, and even provide natural muscle spasm relief. ‘Sore’ you ready to learn more about natural ways to reduce muscle pain? If so, let’s get those eye muscles flexing and read on!

woman with two white boxing gloves on

Muscle pain is derived from eccentric contractions as your body responds to the microdamage caused by the lengthening of your muscle fibers.

Muscle soreness can be related to a number of key aspects in your lifestyle. It may be brought on by excess stress and tension that causes your muscles to tense up over long periods of time. It can also be brought on by other factors such as joint pain. Muscle pain from joints occurs from the associated nerves that run with the tendons that secure your muscles to bony attachments at junctions within your body. We do also recommend keeping up on your bone and joint health to support muscular function.

Regardless of the source, muscular pain and spasms cause frustration and can have a negative impact on your day to day lifestyle. As you go about your day, whether this is through walking, keeping your body in an upright position, or even through an exercise regime, your muscles undergo various contractions in order to create movement or stabilize your limbs.

There are three different types of muscle contractions: concentric, eccentric, and isometric. As a simple example with a bicep curl, a concentric contraction would be where the weight is lifted upwards (reducing the length of the muscle fibers) towards the shoulder as the elbow bends inwards; an eccentric contraction would be where the weight is lowered back down from the shoulder to open up the inner elbow joint (thereby lengthening the muscle fibers); and isometric contraction would be if you were to hold the weight steady in one position (maintaining muscle fiber length).

Muscular soreness comes from eccentric contractions, or as you lengthen your muscle fibers rather than the other types of muscular contractions (1). It is popularly believed that lactic acid causes muscle soreness, though this is not the case (2). Rather, it is thought that the inflammatory response that is brought on after muscular damage through unaccustomed muscular lengthening is the main factor in muscular soreness, especially in delayed onset muscle soreness experienced after exercise (3).

Muscle cramping, on the other hand, whether this is exercise-induced or from another source, is a sudden and involuntary contraction of muscular fibers often accompanied by pain and muscle knotting (4). In contrast, muscular spasms are uncontrolled or abnormal muscular contractions (with or without pain) that are sustained and can have gradual onset or offset (4).

person lifting a dumbbell off of a dumbbell rack

Muscle soreness can happen to anyone, but there are great ways that you can naturally combat, prevent, and reduce muscle pain!

Natural ways to reduce muscle soreness and cramping

There are a number of natural ways that you can reduce muscle soreness and cramping. Here is a short list of evidence-backed techniques to help out your muscles!

Cryotherapy

Immersion in cold water of less than 15 degrees celsius has been a popular way to reduce the severity of muscle soreness, and literature reviews show some evidence that cryotherapy can be useful to reduce muscular pain compared to just rest alone following exercise (5). It is believed that this is achieved by reducing the effects of the inflammatory response from muscle damage following sustained contraction (6).

Foam rolling

Using a foam roller not only feels nice, but it has also been shown to reduce muscular soreness. Using a foam roller is thought to improve blood flow to the connective tissues that encase and are embedded in muscle to both reduce pain and — as an added bonus — can improve exercise performance (7).

Massage

Similar to foam rolling, massage is a technique that can be used to reduce muscle soreness after exercise (8). Massage, including vibration therapy for muscle pain relief, has shown similar effects (9). Massage has also been shown to reduce the incidence of night cramping in patients who are susceptible to cramping (such as in kidney treatments) (10) and this may also be related to improvements in inflammatory responses and blood flow. Many healthcare professionals have also begun to use essential oils through topical applications in massage and, dermatology as well as with aromatherapies to sooth the body by improving blood flow and the inflammatory response as well.

Stretching

Interestingly, there is conflicting evidence suggesting that contrary to popular belief, stretching can reduce the severity of delayed onset muscle soreness post-exercise. While stretching is important for reducing the prevalence of injury, it has little influence over reducing incoming or present muscle soreness. This seems to be the case with static stretching (11), passive stretching (12), and dynamic stretching techniques (13). This is also shown to be true with pre-exercise, during exercise and post-exercise stretches (14). Stretching can interrupt muscular cramping (15). So, if you are experiencing a muscle cramp, try to gently stretch out the area.

watermelon slices on a wooden table

Watermelon is a great natural source of citrulline malate which can help to reduce muscle soreness and boost athletic performance.

Supplements for sore muscles

In addition to the natural techniques that can be used to assist with relieving muscular pain and cramping, there are a number of nutritional supplements that can be used to help with these same issues. While there is limited evidence for using vitamins for muscle pain relief and vitamins for muscle cramps in general, there are still a wide variety of other natural supplements for sore muscles and cramping.
Here is a list of some of the natural supplements that can provide muscle soreness relief:

Vitamin C and E

Vitamin C and E are natural antioxidants that can help with reducing oxidative stress created by free radicals in the body (14). There is some evidence to support that high dose of vitamin C (2000mg/day) and vitamin E (2000U/day) over a short term (4-day) protocol can attenuate muscular damage and inflammation incurred from exercise (15).

Curcumin

Derived from turmeric (Curcuma Longa L.), curcumin is often used as a natural means to reduce inflammation. It has been shown the reduce the inflammatory response and markers of muscle damage post exercise, whereby users report less pain compared to the control group (16). It has been suggested that curcumin can also offset the performance-hindering effects of muscular soreness and damage (17).

BCAAs

There are three BCAAs (otherwise known as Branch Chain Amino Acids) that are considered as essential amino acids that our body cannot create. They are called leucine, valine, and isoleucine. BCAA supplements can contain one or many of these three kinds of amino acids. One study showed that leucine, in particular, reduced perceived muscle soreness when consumed just before and after exercise, though valine, isoleucine and a combination BCAA also significantly decreased perceived muscle pain following exercise (18). It has been noted that there is a potential dose-response relationship between the amount of BCAAs consumed and their effects on decreasing muscle soreness whereby larger doses (18g of BCAAs) attenuate muscle soreness to a greater extent than smaller doses (4g of BCAAs) by helping the body repair the micro-tears in muscle following eccentric contraction (19). Ingesting BCAAs before bed has also been shown to be an effective way to reduce muscle cramping in the legs of patients with cirrhosis while sleeping (20).

Citrulline Malate

Citrulline Malate is a supplement that can be taken to reduce muscle soreness and improve athletic performance (21). Citrulline is a precursor the amino acid arginine, which has various effects on increasing the nitric oxide (a vasodilator) levels in our bodies to increase blood flow to our muscles thereby assisting in flushing out metabolites associated with muscle soreness from muscle cells. Ingesting citrulline malate can also play a role in buffering against the use of energy pathways in our bodies that produce metabolites such as lactate and ammonium that are associated with muscle pain (21). Watermelon is a great natural source of citrulline malate!

L-Carnitine

L-Carnitine is a derivative of two amino acids in the body and is most well known for its use in energy production through fatty acid oxidation. A recent literature review has supported its role in reducing muscle soreness where ingesting 2g of L-carnitine per day can reduce the metabolites associated with muscle soreness (22). Ingesting 6g of L-carnitine has also been shown to improve the frequency and severity of muscle cramps in individuals with diabetes over the course of four months (23).

Whether you have sore muscles after exercise, or if they are achy from your day to day lifestyle, you can rest assure that there are many natural ways that you can achieve muscle soreness relief and even decrease the frequency and intensity of muscle cramping! Why not try some of these natural techniques or even include a dietary supplement in your wellness plan? After all, it couldn’t hurt to reduce hurt!

  1. https://ro.ecu.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=4450&context=ecuworks
  2. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00913847.1983.11708485
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9018476
  4. https://journals.lww.com/acsm-essr/fulltext/2013/01000/Origin_and_Development_of_Muscle_Cramps.3.aspx
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22336838?dopt=Abstract
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29161748
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24343353?dopt=Abstract
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12547748?dopt=Abstract
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3939523/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4868507/
  11. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1600-0838.1999.tb00237.x
  12. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1600-0838.1998.tb00195.x
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28742609
  14. https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/44796/10863_2004_Article_BF00762775.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6097262/
  16. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-11-31
  17. https://www.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/ajpregu.00858.2006?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori:rid:crossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3dpubmed
  18. http://www.mattioli1885journals.com/index.php/progressinnutrition/article/view/5825/4828
  19. http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/25871/1/Dorrell%20and%20Gee%202016.pdf
  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22825550
  21. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2010/05000/Citrulline_Malate_Enhances_Athletic_Anaerobic.9.aspx
  22. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/10/3/349/htm
  23. https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/endocrj/65/5/65_EJ17-0431/_article/-char/ja/