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Treating Sore Muscles and Joint Pain

One big question a lot of people have when they're nursing sore muscles is whether to use heat or ice. Experts say indirect ice -- an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel -- is best for immediate relief.

"Heat will feel good while it's on, but it's not going to lessen the damage or make it go away anytime soon," Frese says.

Goldfarb suggests you ice the sore area right after the activity to cut inflammation. Then use heat later to increase blood flow to the area. Heat also can help relieve joint pain.

If you get sore muscles once in a while, you can take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve)to help ease the discomfort. Just be cautious about using NSAIDs regularly. Long-term use can interfere with your muscle's ability to repair itself, Goldfarb says.

Check with your doctor or pharmacist about any interactions these over-the-counter drugs may have with other medications you take. Also, you may need to avoid some medications if you have ulcers, kidney disease, liver disease, or other conditions.

Sometimes soothing sore muscles requires more than an ice pack or over-the-counter pain reliever. Muscle pain that comes on quickly and feels intense is a sign that you've injured yourself. Call your doctor if your pain is severe or lasts for more than a few days.

How Do I Prevent Sore Muscles and Joint Pain?

Experts used to recommend stretching before a workout to prevent sore muscles. But research shows that stretching ahead of time doesn't do much to prevent soreness or injury. Frese says it's better to get in a good warm-up before you exercise. Stretch later, when your muscles are already warm.

A couple of natural substances are touted for preventing sore muscles, including antioxidants like vitamin C. But check with your doctor before taking high doses of any vitamin. Serious exercisers might find relief from post-workout soreness by taking in some protein. A study of marines found that protein supplements helped sore muscles after intense exercise.

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