A new or intense exercise not only comes with amazing physical fitness but also gives annoying and painful muscle soreness. So, if you are tired of swallowing pills and massaging pain balms on those sore muscles, this article is exactly for you. Here, we will talk about the ‘rice bag’, an easy way to soothe the soreness of muscles and get relief from all your troubles. Yes, a bag filled with rice can work like magic for different types of pain, aches, and tenderness. So, let us know what muscle soreness is all about and how to use rice bags for sore muscles in the most effective manner.
What is Muscle Soreness?
When you put excessive stress on your muscles, they become sore due to inflammation. Based on the type and intensity of exercise, it may range from hardly noticeable to highly painful. Typically, muscle soreness is categorized into the following ways (1):
Acute Muscle Soreness (Immediate Muscle Soreness): You may feel it as a burning pain right away after an exercise session. It usually results from a lactic acid buildup in muscles and resolves quickly without causing much trouble.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS): This kind of soreness is caused due to damage or microscopic tears in muscle fibers and the adjacent connective tissues (2). During an unusually intense workout that involves a lot of eccentric (lengthening) muscle contractions, the muscles experience higher levels of damage (3). It stimulates the body to initiate the process of repairing, which leads to fluid accumulation and inflammation at the site of injury. Consequently, you start experiencing the symptoms like tightness, pain, etc., after 6 to 8 hours. This usually peaks 12 to 24 hours after exercise and can last almost up to 48 hours.
Is Muscle Soreness Normal?
Mild to moderate muscle soreness is normal and does not cause any harm. Even professional athletes and bodybuilders also sustain it from time to time. As you undergo a reasonable degree of soreness and recover from it, your muscles grow larger and stronger than ever before. In other words, it prepares your muscles and you for handling your next workout like a pro.
But the soreness developed due to overuse or injury of muscles should neither turn severe nor last for too long. However, if it starts during or right after the workout, resists you from performing your daily activities, and lasts for more than 3 days, you should feel alarmed. In fact, chronic inflammation in muscle tissues can even lead to chronic diseases over time (4).
Heat Therapy for Muscle Soreness
While gentle movements like light stretching, walking, etc., help drive the discomfort of sore muscles away, it is even better to opt for heat therapy for fast and effective relief. Be it local tightness, widespread pain, or whole-body soreness, applying heat for a good amount of time can take all the discomfort away. You can make use of a small heated gel pack, a large heating pad, a steamed towel, a heat wrap, or even a hot water bottle for sore muscles. Otherwise, take a warm bath or sauna to treat full body stiffness. Thermotherapy or professional heat therapy treatment (heat from an ultrasound) is also quite popular for this purpose.
Heat therapy can be of two types: Conducted Heat Therapy (dry heat) and Convection Heat Therapy (moist heat). Dry heat (dry heating packs, heating pads, and saunas) takes more time to apply while moist heat (moist heating packs, steamed towel, and hot baths) takes less time.
Why Use Rice Bags for Sore Muscles?
A rice bag works as a small homemade heating pad. It soothes sore muscles and gives quick relief. The heat from the bag tends to numb out the pain and irritation caused by soreness. If the pain is minor, you need to undergo a session of 15-20 minutes. For severe pain, longer sessions ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours may be needed. Using a rice bag for heat therapy is cost-efficient and safer than a readily available electric heating pad. It is especially useful when you are down with soreness and cannot leave the house to buy any commercial remedy.
How Does a Rice Bag Work?
As mentioned earlier, a rice bag works according to the principle of heat therapy. Upon application to a sore area, a warm rice bag transfers heat to the affected muscle tissues. The increase in temperature opens up the blood vessels in that area, thereby improving blood and oxygen flow. This reduces muscle spasms, soothes discomfort, and induces relaxation. As a result, the damaged tissues are healed, and the flexibility of the muscle is boosted. (5)
How to Make a Rice Bag at Home?
Making your own rice bag with materials around your home is a quick and easy procedure. You can make a fancy rice bag right away if you have your way with a needle and thread or a sewing machine. Check out the steps below:
- Take a 9” ×22” piece of cotton fabric and fold it in half.
- Sew it on three sides so that it has an opening on the top.
- Turn it inside out, and you have a basic 9” ×11” cotton bag.
- Now, fill 3/4th of this bag with any rice.
- Finally, sew the open end of the bag carefully.
- Sterilize the rice-filled bag by microwaving it for 3-4 minutes.
- Let it cool down completely.
- Your homemade rice bag is ready to use.
Here is another simpler alternative to a homemade rice bag. Take a big, clean sock (tube sock works the best) and fill 3/4th of it with rice. Next, sew or knot the end of the sock or tie it with a rubber band to prevent the rice from spilling. Now stuff this sock, knotted end first, inside another clean sock. It may not be a piece of art, but it will surely serve your purpose.
Use buckwheat, corn, or husk instead of rice as the stuffing for the bag. Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to the rice before sewing it shut. It will release a wonderful aroma during each use. For added warmth, you can sew a pillowcase for the bag using colorful pieces of cloth. This will ensure that you do not burn your skin if the rice is too hot.
Using a Rice Bag for Sore Muscles
If you have sore muscles, heat your homemade rice bag and use it on the troubled part of the body. To heat it, you need to follow the given steps:
- Depending on your rice bag’s size, place it in a microwave and heat it on high for 2-3 minutes.
- Once the time is over, remove the bag from the microwave and check if the temperature is tolerable or not.
If it is too hot, cool it down a little bit.
- When the temperature is right for you, apply it to the spots where you have sore muscles (neck, shoulders, lower back, under the thighs, etc.).
- Once all the heat in it is dissipated, you can reheat the rice bag in the microwave for 1 more minute and use it again.
Heated rice bags can also be used for conditions like congested chest, lower backache, and so on. You can even use the bags if you are feeling cold and need some warmth.
How Long Should You Use a Rice Bag?
Once you make a rice bag, it is meant for multiple uses, running for a couple of months. You should always store it in a dry place. Since the rice bag tends to absorb moisture from the atmosphere, molds can grow in it after a few months. Hence, a rice bag is good to be used before it develops molds. Also, if you use a rice bag too much, it starts releasing the smell of cooked rice. So you should stop using it at that point.
Potential Risks of Using a Rice Bag
There is no such risk involved in the application of rice bags for sore muscles. But make sure that you use the bag when it is warm and not too hot. Otherwise, you may end up burning your skin. You should also not hold the bag directly on the afflicted area for more than 20 minutes in one go. If you have an open wound or infection, try not to use heat therapy for relieving sore muscles. It should also not be used when the troubled area is swollen or bruised. Certain other pre-existing conditions in which rice bags should not be used include diabetes, vascular diseases, deep vein thrombosis, multiple sclerosis (MS), dermatitis, etc.
Other Ways to Relieve Sore Muscles
- Increase your intake of milk protein concentrate through protein-fortified foods, beverages, and powders.
- Consume anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich foods like watermelon, pineapple, ginger, cherry, etc.
- Take antioxidant supplements like fish oil, curcumin, omega-3 fatty acids, etc.
- Wear a compression garment (sleeves, leggings, socks, etc.) for 24 hours after a workout to prevent the symptoms of muscle soreness from getting worse.
- Sit and soak in a hot Epsom salt bath to reduce inflammation through the moist heat.
- Roll your body slowly over a foam roller placed on the floor to give yourself a self-massage.
Muscle tissues get inflamed and sore due to excessive stress on them. Based on the type and intensity of exercise, muscle soreness can be acute or immediate and delayed onset or DOMS. While acute muscle soreness resolves quickly without causing much trouble, DOMS can last up to 48 hours due to a higher level of damage or micro-tearing in the muscle fibers. Be it local tightness, widespread pain, or whole-body soreness, heat therapy provides fast and effective relief from muscle soreness. A rice bag soothes sore muscles and gives quick relief by working as a small homemade heating pad by improving the flow of blood and oxygen to the damaged area. Making your own rice bag with materials around your home is a quick and easy procedure. All you need to do is heat it up and apply it to the sore muscles. Make sure that you use the bag when it is warm and not too hot. Otherwise, you may end up burning your skin.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
What is the Best Filling for Rice Packs?
Go for long-grain uncooked rice, which can be aromatic or non-aromatic as per your choice.
How Long Does a Rice Sock Last?
A rice sock can last for around 20 days to one month, depending on the size and quality of the sock.
How Much Essential Oil Should I Put in a Rice Bag?
You should not put more than 8 to 10 drops of essential oil in a rice bag.
Can You Wash a Rice Bag?
No, you cannot regularly wash a rice bag. For a washable version, use a muslin cloth for the fabric and add a washable cover.
- “Understanding Muscle Soreness – How Much is Too Much?”, Kidney.org
- “ACSM Information on Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)”, ACSM.org
- “Eccentric Muscle Contractions: Risks and Benefits”, Frontiersin.org
- “The Inflammation Theory of disease”, NCBI.nlm.nih.gov
- “Treating Pain with Heat and Cold”, Healthline.com