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Sore Muscles Glad To Have Ginger?

By Professor Gordon S. Lynch

Ginger is known to help calm upset stomachs ... but what about its effects on sore muscles?


              Sore muscles glad to have ginger

Why muscles can get sore after exercise

Muscle soreness can sometimes occur after a vigorous workout but it usually follows unfamiliar exercise or a workout after a long layoff. This muscle soreness usually peaks one, two or three days after the initial workout and is referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS.

DOMS is usually associated with actions that require muscles to act as ‘brakes’, such as when walking or running downhill, or when a muscle performs some type of lengthening action, or ‘eccentric' contraction when the muscle lengthens while still active, such as when lowering a heavy weight.

DOMS is related to microscopic damage to muscle fibres which causes inflammation and a reduction in the muscle strength.

Is inflammation bad for muscles?

With respect to its involvement in successful muscle repair after injury, inflammation is really a double-edged sword.

For muscles to repair after minor trauma, an inflammatory response is needed to trigger activation of the muscle’s resident ‘stem cells’ which then go to the sites of injury and replace damaged muscle fibres. Problems arise when inflammation is excessive or lasts too long since it disrupts the muscle healing process. Therefore, controlling inflammation is very important for successful muscle repair.

Why might eating ginger be useful for sore muscles?

Ginger is widely used as a spice and as a herbal medicine for the treatment of many ailments involving inflammation. For example, in Chinese medicine ginger has been used to treat asthma, diabetes, nausea and upset stomach, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis and toothache.

That’s because several constituents of ginger have anti-inflammatory properties and may act like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. With this in mind, researchers from the University of Georgia in the US examined whether the soothing effects of ginger might extend to sore muscles.

In one study, scientists recruited 74 adults and had them do an arm exercise which involved lowering a heavy weight 18 times. This exercise caused muscle pain and inflammation. Over 11 days, the participants consumed six capsules a day containing either two grams of ginger or 2 grams of white flour (as a placebo); both taken with a glass of water and a tablespoon of olive oil to enhance ginger absorption. Ultimately, the ginger-eating groups experienced roughly 25 per cent reductions in exercise-induced muscle soreness 24 hours after the workout.

In another study, the same group of researchers compared what happened when the participants consumed either 2 grams of ginger or a placebo the day after the bout of exercise, and then again two days after the exercise. They found that ginger had no effect on physiological parameters shortly after eating, but it was associated with less soreness the following day. The scientists concluded that ginger may help slow the progression of muscle pain after exercise.

The verdict … does ginger work?

Feelings of muscle soreness vary greatly between individuals, making it very difficult to measure accurately. Given that the perception of DOMS was the only thing different between the groups after consuming ginger it would be misleading to state that ginger can effectively reduce muscle damage after exercise.

For example, other studies found that eating ginger before exercise had no effect on muscle pain or on selected physiological or metabolic markers during or immediately after a workout. Therefore, any potential benefits of ginger are likely to be limited to reductions in muscle soreness in the days after a workout.

References:

Black CD, O’Connor PJ (2008) Acute effects of dietary ginger on quadriceps muscle pain during moderate-intensity cycling exercise. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 18: 653-664.

Black CD, O’Connor PJ (2010) Acute effects of dietary ginger on muscle pain induced by eccentric exercise. Phytotherapy Research 24: 1620-1626.

Black CD, Herring MP, Hurley DJ, O'Connor PJ (2010) Ginger (Zingiber officinale) reduces muscle pain caused by eccentric exercise. Journal of Pain 11: 894-903.

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