A marathon took place this past Sunday in Austin, Texas, and I’ve seen a few runners who came in for massages. It surprises me that so many runners, triathletes, bicyclists, and people who work out are unaware of two over-the-counter remedies that are very effective at relieving muscle pain. Hence this blog post!
It’s not that I don’t want to see you on the massage table. I do. Massage has great benefits, including pain relief. But it’s like this: Very few people can afford to get massage every time they work their muscles hard enough that they feel pain afterwards. Wouldn’t that be nice, though?
In between massages, here’s how you can find relief from muscle pain. These are remedies professional athletes, dancers, and others who work their bodies hard use. I first learned about them 20 years ago while attending a dance workshop.
Arnica gel and tablets
Arnica montana is an herb that grows in Europe. The homeopathic pharmaceutical industry sells an arnica gel that you can apply to your skin to relieve pain. It’s clear, goes on cool, has no odor, and once it dries, you can’t tell it’s there.
You can also get arnica cream, which blends more easily with lotion or creamy sunscreen.
Arnica relieves muscles aches and stiffness, reduces swelling, and prevents bruising. It relieves osteoarthritis pain as well as ibuprofen, without any side effects. I always have it available when I’m doing massage, to apply to bruises and to extremely sore, stiff, or swollen muscles.
If you’re more adventurous, you can take arnica tablets. There’s a little trick to dispensing the tablets: twist the lid to loosen. Hold the container upside down and twist it, keeping the lid stable. Pellets will fall into the lid one at a time. When you’ve released 5 pellets, remove the lid from the container and empty the lid under your tongue. Let the pellets melt in your mouth.
If you know you will be doing something where you’ll be in pain afterwards, like lifting heavy boxes, gardening, getting Rolfed, hiking with a heavy pack, etc., take the tablets beforehand to prevent or lessen pain, or take it afterwards for whole-body relief.
Where to get arnica
Here’s the tricky part. People “in the know” like athletes and dancers use arnica, but the makers don’t advertise (as far as I know), so others tend to learn about arnica via word of mouth. To buy it, you need to go to a store that sells homeopathic medicines. Ordinary drug stores and groceries typically do not (although that may be changing), but compounding pharmacies and health food stores (including Whole Foods and Sprouts) do. If it’s not available where you live, you can buy it online.
Note: You may have heard people say homeopathy doesn’t work. If you’re skeptical, try this: The next time you feel muscle pain equally on both sides of your body, apply arnica to one side and do nothing to the other side. Wait a few hours or overnight and note the difference. Or you could apply it to half a bruise and see what happens.
Epsom salt baths
My second recommendation for muscle pain is taking epsom salt baths. Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) is a mineral made from sea water that looks like rock salt. It has several uses, including taking internally to relieve constipation (taking too much orally can cause diarrhea) and fertilizing plants.
Fortunately, the body absorbs magnesium really well through the skin, and there are no adverse side-effects.
The best use for sore bodies is to add two cups of epsom salt to a warm or hot bath and soak in it for 12-20 minutes. Swish the water until the epsom salt dissolves. If I take an epsom salt bath in the evening, it calms me and I sleep like a baby.
Epsom salt eases muscle cramps, pain, and inflammation. It reduces insomnia and anxiety. It pulls toxins out of cells, softens skin, improves blood circulation and oxygen use, increases the effectiveness of insulin, aids in nutrient absorption, lowers blood pressure, and relieves migraines and cold/flu symptoms.
Most of us are deficient in magnesium. Stress (including muscle overuse) depletes magnesium, and depleted magnesium creates stress, so it’s easy to get stuck in magnesium depletion.
I believe magnesium is the new Vitamin D because most of us don’t know we’re deficient, and once the deficiency is remedied, well-being increases.
I’m not the only one that thinks so.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, American’s magnesium deficiency helps to account for high rates of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, arthritis and joint pain, digestive maladies, stress-related illnesses, chronic fatigue and a number of other ailments.
The other component of epsom salt, sulfate aids joint health, improves absorption of nutrients, strengthens the gut lining, forms healthy brain tissue, and plays an essential role in detoxing. It may ease or prevent the pain of migraines.
If you think you might be deficient, take 2-3 epsom salt baths a week for a month. Once the blood levels reach optimum level, you stop absorbing it, so it’s safe.
Where to buy epsom salt
You can buy plain epsom salt at mainstream grocery stores and pharmacies. I bought a 4 pound bag from the Texas grocery chain H-E-B for $2.86. Four pounds makes 8 cups, so using two cups per bath, a bag provides enough for four baths at $.71 per bath.
Think about it: For a little over $2 per week, you could sleep like a baby, ease sore muscles, detoxify your body, improve digestion, lower blood pressure, and increase your feeling of well-being!
Bonus: You can reuse the bath water as a plant fertilizer! Epsom salt is often used to fertilize tomato and pepper plants as well as rose bushes. My bathtub drains into a hose that I can move around outside so various plants get the benefit of this fertilizer.
Also, you may see epsom salt sold in smaller quantities that’s had fragrant essential oils added. It’s usually marked up quite a bit. If you’re frugally experimental like me, you’ll want to get the plain generic epsom salt and experiment with adding your own fragrance.
For relaxation, add lavender, chamomile, frankincense, sandalwood, patchouli, or florals like rose, jasmine, neroli, geranium. To stimulate your energy, add citrus scents, mint, ginger, cinnamon, or rosemary. Put the scented epsom salt into pretty jars, tie with ribbons, and give as gifts.