Whether from overwork or under use, most of have had to deal with muscle aches and pains at one point or another. These home remedies for sore muscles will give you a variety of options for natural muscle pain relief. My personal favorite for spot treatment, especially for leg cramps, is #1 – magnesium oil.
What causes muscle soreness, cramps, sprains and strains?
General soreness after exertion (Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)) is typically cause by micro tears in the muscle. Over time as the muscles rebuilds itself stronger to accommodate the activity, soreness should decrease. You can read more about this at “What Causes Pain and Soreness After Exercise“.
A muscle cramp, i.e., “a strong, painful contraction or tightening of a muscle that comes on suddenly and lasts from a few seconds to several minutes”, may be linked to a variety of causes, including:
- Exercise, injury or overuse
- Blood flow problems
- Lack of minerals such as calcium, potassium and magnesium
- Certain medication
You can read more at WebMD “Muscle Cramps”.
A muscle sprain is “an injury to a ligament (tissue that connects two or more bones at a joint). In a sprain, one or more ligaments is stretched or torn”. A muscle strain is an injury to a muscle or a tendon (tissue that connects muscle to bone). In a strain, a muscle or tendon is stretched or torn. Sprains and strains are generally caused by trauma (falls, twists, impacts) or overuse. Read more about sprains and strains at the NIH.gov, “What are Sprains and Strains?”
Always remember, if pain is severe or incapacitating, please see your health care professional. This post is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to replace trained medical advice.
Home Remedy for Sore Muscles #1 – Topical Magnesium – Epsom Salts and Magnesium Oil
How do Epsom salts and magnesium oil work to provide muscle pain relief? Epsom salts are made up of magnesium sulfate, magnesium oil is made up of magnesium chloride. Magnesium is natural muscle relaxant, and as salts, these compounds help to pull excess fluids out of the tissues, reducing swelling. Most of us have a hard time getting enough magnesium in our diets, especially as we age. Topical magnesium helps target muscle pain by getting the magnesium directly to the sore muscles.
Epsom Salt for Muscle Pain Relief
Tried and true, a cup or two of Epsom salt dissolved in a warm tub of water works wonders for aching muscles. Use warm water, not hot water. (Warm water will dry out your skin less.) For sore muscles, soak for 15 minutes or until the water has cooled, up to three times per week. Epsom salt baths are not recommended for those with health conditions such as heart problems, high blood pressure or diabetes.
Magnesium Oil Stops Leg Cramps
Magnesium oil is typically applied with a spray pump bottle, which makes it easier to target on a specific area, such as a sore calf or foot. We keep a spray bottle next to the bed for nighttime leg cramps. I never had nighttime leg cramps until I got into my late 40s, but my husband's had them off and on for years. He used to just try and get up and walk them off.
Now, when leg cramps hit, the first thing we reach for is the spray bottle of magnesium oil, followed by a drink of water. If we've been working outside and know that muscle cramps or soreness are more likely, we'll spray on magnesium oil as a preventative measure. Note: It has a slightly tacky feel when you spray it on, and does sting a little on freshly shaved legs. (It is a salt, after all.) The leg cramp relief far outweighs any minor sting at application.
Home Remedy for Sore Muscles #2 – Heat
A warm shower or bath is a natural muscle relaxer, which can be great for tension knotted shoulders or muscles tight from overuse. While ice used to be recommended for muscle sprains, research now indicates that cold slows down the body's healing process. The article “Is R.I.C. E. all wrong?” notes:
“Nearly everyone who ices today,” says veteran athletic trainer Gary Reinl, “believes they’re doing it to prevent inflammation, reduce swelling, and control pain. But here’s the problem: Icing doesn’t prevent inflammation or swelling; it only delays it. Once tissues rewarm, the inflammatory process resumes and your body’s innate intelligence sends the correct amount of fluid to the damage site. Although icing can provide temporary pain relief, numbing just shuts off protective signals that alert you to harmful movement. And the Journal of Athletic Medicine Research recently showed that icing actually kills muscle cells.”
Home Remedy for Sore Muscles #3 – Oral Magnesium
Low levels of magnesium in the body can lead to general muscle aches and muscle cramps. You may want to consider a magnesium supplement, but you can start by including foods that are high in magnesium in your diet. (Click here to buy magnesium glycinate, one of the most easily absorbed forms of oral magnesium.)
Some of the top food sources for magnesium are:
- molasses (see below)
- squash and pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- Swiss chard
- cocoa powder
- black beans
- flax seeds
- sesame seeds
- sunflower seeds
Home Remedy for Sore Muscles #4 – Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)
15 people on the Earth Clinic Muscle Cramp page give Apple Cider vinegar a thumbs up for treating sore muscles and leg cramps. Most folks mix a tablespoon or two in a glass of water and drink it down, some drink a tablespoon straight like a shot. Still other rub the vinegar directly on the area of the sore muscle/cramp. A variation of this is a fellow who drank pickle juice and achieved similar results. Judith recommends 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon of honey, a sprig of fresh mint and 8 to 10 ounces of cold water, well mixed.
Home Remedy for Sore Muscles #5 – Blackstrap Molasses
Another Earth Clinic user says 1 tablespoon of blackstrap molasses in a cup of coffee each day cured his chronic muscle pain. This is likely due to the magnesium content. Another way to get combine ACV and molasses is the old fashioned drink called Switchel, which was commonly used before the age of brightly colored sports drinks and juices shipped from around the world. This version of the drink is from Hillbilly Housewife.
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 1/2 cup sugar or honey
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
- tap water to make 2 quarts
Mix first four ingredients to blend, then add water and mix until dissolved. Chill or serve over ice, if desired.
Home Remedy for Sore Muscles #6 – Coconut Oil
Like apple cider vinegar, coconut oil is recommended for a wide variety of ailments. On the EarthClinic site, Lynn says that she uses 2-3 tablespoons of virgin coconut oil per day in cooking and applied on foods like butter. if you want an easy way to eat more coconut oil, may I recommend some coconut oil fudge, which contains coconut oil and cocoa powder? 🙂
Home Remedy for Sore Muscles #7 – Essential Oils
A number of essential oils and essential oils blends may be helpful for muscle pain relief.
- Cramps: Try lemongrass with peppermint and marjoram
- Spasms: Top recommended oils are basil, marjoram and Roman Chamomile.
- Tension: Try marjoram, peppermint, helichrysum, lavender or Roman Chamomile.
To use an essential oil for muscle pain, add one to two drops of the essential oil into one tablespoon of a carrier oil such as fractionated coconut oil or olive oil, and apply to the affected area.
Home Remedy for Sore Muscles #8 – Movement
If you're just stiff and sore, more of what got you that way may be the answer. Over time, your muscles will build and strengthen and you'll be able to do more with less discomfort. I know if I sit too much (say, working on a certain website…), I get awfully stiff. Just getting up and moving around and doing some gentle stretching works wonders.
Our muscles tend to want to stay doing whatever they're doing, unless we force them to change. If you're tensed up, they'll stay tensed up. Stand up, walk, run, stretch, garden – do whatever you can to be active, so you can stay active as you age.
For injuries, a new healing acronym is A.R.I.T.A. – active recovery is the answer. Don't beat the heck out of an injury, but don't avoid moving for too long. Note: Always check with your doc for severe injuries.
Home Remedy for Sore Muscles #9 – Massage
Massage helps to stimulate blood circulation to an area, which speeds healing. When combined with healing oils, such as the essential oils blends listed above or pepper rub
below, you get a double benefit.
Self-massage for tight, sore shoulders…
Simple self massage for sore knees…
Home Remedy for Sore Muscles #10 – Hot Pepper Rubs
Capsaicin, which produces the burn in hot peppers, has been used to relive pain from arthritis, joint and muscle pain and general muscle soreness. It is available in over the counter products such as Cramer Atomic Balm Warming Cream, or you can make your own by mixing:
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and
- one cup of olive or (warm) coconut oil
Some people combine the cayenne with aloe vera gel instead. Apply the rub to the affected area, and wash your hands after application. Keep the rub away from your eyes, nose and mouth – it will cause irritation. Test on a small area to make sure that it does not make you more uncomfortable instead of relieving your pain. This one is not for everyone.
Home Remedy for Sore Muscles #11 – Rest
Sometimes the best thing you can do is not do anything at all. If you rest up for a couple of days, general muscle soreness should pass on its own. Of course, when things get busy in the garden or on the farm, rest isn't easy to come by, so do what works for you. Don't sit around too long, or you may make the muscle soreness worse. Remember – Active Recovery Is The Answer.
Home Remedy for Sore Muscles #12 – Tart Cherry Juice
The Science Daily article “Cherry Juice Reduces Muscle Pain Induced By Exercise” sites a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in which volunteers drank either a cherry juice blend or a drink containing no cherry juice. They state:
There was a significant difference in the degree of muscle strength loss between those drinking the cherry juice blend and those taking the dummy mixture.
This fell by 22 percentage points in those drinking the dummy mixture, but only by 4 percentage points in those drinking cherry juice. Muscle strength even improved slightly after 96 hours in those drinking cherry juice.
The degree of soreness differed little between the two groups, but the average pain score was significantly less in those drinking cherry juice.
Average pain scores came in at 3.2 for those drinking the dummy mixture and 2.4 for those drinking cherry juice.
Pain also peaked at 24 hours for those drinking cherry juice, but continued to increase for those on the dummy mixture for the subsequent 48 hours.
You can generally only find tart cherries available fresh in season or frozen, but tart cherry juice concentrate is available year round.
#13 – Water!
I realized as I was updating this post that I had skipped one of the most important sore muscle remedies – hydration. Since dehydration can cause muscle soreness, hydration can help prevent it and clear it. It's not a quick fix, it's a general self-care tip. Stay hydrated!
Recommended resources (click on links below to purchase):
- Magnesium oil
- Tart Cherry Juice concentrate
- CorPak Soft Comfort Hot & Cold 10″ x 13″
- Sombra Warm Therapy Natural Pain Relieving Gel, 8-Ounce
- Plantation Organic Molasses – They have now started treating sugar cane with glyphosate prior to harvest to increase yields, so buying organic is the only way to avoid contamination.
Originally written in 2013, updated 2016, 2017.