Therein Lies the Rub

recovery, fitness

Therein Lies the Rub

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Kira Stoops

Relief for the weekend warrior.

Yes, you KNOW you should have stretched / trained / carbo-loaded / not climbed so many pitches. Little comfort when stiffness and soreness set in by Monday. That's Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, your body's malapert way of saying, "I told you so." Shush the twerp with a few of these relief strategies, and the comforting knowledge that mild DOMS only lasts a few days. Moreso, it's a positive part of the adaptation process. Next Sufferfest, your body will be that much tougher.

Most athletes wisely reach for a little vitamin I (ibuprofen, marketed as Motrin) to curb pain and inflammation. But weak stomachs might try a topical painkiller. John Zombro, owner of Zombro Physical Therapy, shies away from "ground aspirin" rubs like Aspercreme because their transdermal absorption is poor. Try a counterirritant like Icy Hot instead: the hot-and-cold sensation distracts your brain from the pain, which can allow a tense muscle to relax.

For Co-op types, there's Tiger Rub, the natural alternative to Icy Hot, and true purists may find they get the same nerve-cooling sensation from spearmint, peppermint, eucalyptus, wintergreen, and/or camphor oils. (Synthetic wintergreen is the major ingredient in Icy Hot, but some theorize it builds up in the body, unlike natural wintergreen.) Chiropractor Kern Taylor recommends homeopathic Arnica Oil, which not only erases bruises but spares you from smelling like a human cough drop (an aesthetic downside of the other muscle rubs.) One of Zombro's trainees even found success with emu oil. If nothing else, "the act of rubbing in one of these products is like a little massage," Zombro says.

Which might not be such a bad idea, either. Manipulation of the tissue prevents secondary [muscle] stiffening,” says Zombro. Experts recommend neuromuscular massage, but even a backrub from a generous friend can release endorphins (the body's natural painkillers) and push lactic acid and other exercise by-products out of beleaguered muscles. For the broke or squeamish, gentle, slow stretching can have a similar effect.

Speaking of broke, there's always the cheapest cure of all: water. First off, drink it. Physical exertion often equals dehydration, which can seriously worsen DOMS. Drinking water helps flush lactic acid from the body. Second off, ice it. Icing an angry muscle for 20 minutes can have as profound an anti-inflammation effect as ibuprofen. Feeling brave? Go whole hog into a cold (55 degrees F) or ice (34 degrees F) bath, as soon as possible post-warrioring. If a snowmelt mountain stream isn't at your immediate disposal, a bathtub, a bag of ice, and 10 minutes of "ho-o-o-oly shi-i-i-it" could save you a lot of later. A contrast shower could help too, a few minutes of hot water followed by a few minutes of freezing, repeated three times.

Twenty-four hours after exertion, you're better off heading to the hot springs or a hot tub. If you use your own bathtub, be sure to throw in a cup or two of epsom salts, which give your body a healthy dose of magnesium. Not only is it anti-inflammatory, but magnesium boosts serotonin for a nice post-bath high.

"All relief methods have some potential to help," says Zombro, "but results will vary for individuals." He's a staunch supporter of his patients' quest for pain relief, even when they turn to zany cures like emu oil, or clinical-testing flunkies like Aspercreme. Whether it's just a placebo effect or actually working, you can't argue with success and I respect that.

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