Does Stretching Really Help Sore Muscles?

You've probably experienced sore muscles after working out. It can happen with all kinds of exercises, and people who haven't worked out in a while may experience major soreness afterward. The soreness you feel after a workout is called delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and it is generally the result of eccentric exercises that lengthen muscles. Exercise causes tiny tears in your muscles, and that damage — along with the inflammation that occurs with it — causes the pain, per Healthline.

Most of the time, you'll feel sore 12 to 24 hours after your workout, and this feeling can last as long as three days. During this time, your muscles could be tender to the touch. Depending on what muscles are sore, DOMS can make it difficult to walk, sit down, or lift objects. While it might hurt to move, Healthline explains that staying slightly active while you experience DOMS is better than not moving at all (as long as you're not too sore to work out). You probably won't want to lift weights or jump into a high-intensity workout, but gentle movements could ease the pain somewhat. You may have even heard that stretching can help relieve sore muscles, but is this really true?

The best way to deal with sore muscles

Stretching has many benefits, but it probably isn't the best way to cope with DOMS. Livestrong explains that stretching, like eccentric exercises, lengthens muscles, and repeating the same kind of motion that caused the pain in the first place isn't likely to bring much relief. In addition, pain is a result of the nervous system warning you against further injuring that area. If you stretch hurting muscles, you might trigger the nervous system response — which could cause even more pain. Moreover, a 2011 review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews showed that stretching did not offer protection from muscle soreness.

The truth is, there are better ways to treat sore muscles. One way is through massage, and (for the best results) it needs to be within 24 to 72 hours after a workout. You don't have to get a massage from a professional, either. Massaging oil or lotion on your shoulders, thighs, calves, buttocks, and arms can help the soreness. You can also use a foam roller during or after your workout. In addition, topical creams and lotions made with analgesics, arnica, and menthol might diminish soreness (via Healthline).