How to soothe muscle aches

Easing soreness, stiffness, and cramps

Any unaccustomed exertion can make muscles sore and stiff. Take aspirin or another analgesic to relieve the pain. Relax the muscles with a hot bath or shower, with a heating pad (preferably the moist-heat type), or with hot towels. Heat-producing rubs and lotions may help. Gently exercise stiff muscles to get them back to work.

A pulled muscle will be swollen as well as painful. Again, take aspirin or another analgesic for the pain; reduce swelling with an ice pack. Bind an arm or leg muscle lightly with an elastic bandage. Don’t use a pulled muscle until it stops hurting. If the pain or swelling is intense, or if it lasts longer than 48 hours, see a doctor.

A sudden cramp or spasm may be caused by unusual exertion or the stress of an awkward position. To help the muscle relax, gently massage and stretch it; moist heat helps too. Stretch a cramped hand by pushing the fingers back. For a charley horse in the upper arm, pull the arm straight; if it’s in the calf, straighten the leg and pull the foot upward.

Foot and calf muscles often cramp at night, especially if you sleep on your stomach with your feet pointed downward. Get up and walk to increase circulation. Face toward a wall and lean against it at arm’s length so that your heels are raised off the floor; then press the heels down to the floor.

To prevent nighttime cramps, sleep in a different position, or raise the foot of your bed slightly. Relaxing with a glass of warm milk before bedtime will also help. For recurrent cramps, or for those that cause acute or long- lasting pain, see a doctor.