How Can You Speed Up Muscle Recovery?

John Miller Physiotherapist

Article by John Miller

What Helps Muscles Recover Fast?

There are a plethora of muscle recovery options available. Which ones are scientifically proven to speed up muscle recovery? Here’s the scientific evidence for seven different muscle recovery options.

1. Ice Bath

Post-exercise ice baths are among the most studied muscle recovery methods because of their popularity and simplicity. Super-cold temperatures reduce the swelling and pain associated with muscle damage. Any large bucket of water or a cold bath with crushed ice bags thrown in.

Does an ice bath work to reduce pain?

Some studies show it does and some it doesn’t. On the whole, ice baths seem to reduce associated pain, but the results can vary.

It could be okay to use if an ice bath does give you pain relief. Some benefits of a post-workout ice bath are during specific training phases. Post-marathon or following a competitive game would be great to test the ice bath method.

However, it’s probably not ideal for taking an ice bath in preparation for an upcoming intense training workout or a competition. For that, the research suggests that reduced muscle temperatures hamper your performance. Warmer muscles always feel loser and stronger. In short, they perform better, which is why we warm up in the first place.

2. Compression Garments

Compression garments create physical pressure. The pressure limits blood pooling and assists blood flow through the veins to reduce swelling. Studies show they work for people with circulation issues and healthy subjects needing recovery.

In athletes, the increased blood flow increases the clearance of lactate and creatine kinase: muscles and the bloodstream release these byproducts after vigorous exercise and signal muscle damage.

A 2020 review looked at 21 studies that examined the effects of compression tights and found that wearing compression garments improved performance in a few studies. They concluded that compression socks could help with perceived muscle soreness during recovery.

3. Recovery Massage

There’s a lot of mixed evidence over recovery massages, which reduce the tension of the muscle’s fascia. On the whole, they probably do help. That’s why professional sports teams use them weekly.

4. Foam Rollers

Foam rollers work by inducing self-myofascial release when the layer of tissue on the outside of a muscle loosens up. This tissue release improves the range of motion around a joint and reduces DOMS.

5. Stretching

Researchers have found convincing evidence that static stretching isn’t that helpful in warming up your muscles. Dynamic stretching is far better, which involves moving and engaging more than one muscle in a contract and relax cycle.

Dynamic stretching increases muscle blood flow and generates heat. Muscle warmth is crucial to athletic performance. Static stretches help increase the range of motion at the joints that connect muscles. They are also probably best done after your workout or game.

Stretching is helpful, but remember dynamic stretching before and static stretching afterwards.

6. Pain-Relieving Drugs

There’s more hard evidence on pain-relieving drugs than other recovery techniques. While non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), e.g. aspirin and ibuprofen, work well at minimising pain, they come at a potential cost. Studies show that they significantly inhibit the natural recovery process of muscles. Some research suggests that NSAIDs inhibit the proliferation of a group of muscle stem cells known as satellite cells, which play a crucial role in muscle repair. So if you can handle the pain, it’s probably best to use more non-chemical or natural modalities. However, there’s a place for them. Suppose there is intolerable pain since you still need to be mobile. In that case, the benefits likely outweigh the costs but understanding that it may hinder the recovery process.

7. Sleep

Most people don’t get enough sleep. Average adults need about eight hours. Endurance and full-time professional athletes probably need to increase closer to nine or ten hours.

Researchers haven’t pieced apart the exact mechanisms through which muscle recovery occurs. Still, they know that sleep plays a critical role in the health of every organ system in the body. Sleeping is also very cheap, so try to see how it affects your muscle recovery.

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