The science of soreness.
Whether a competitive athlete or weekend warrior, no one who exercises vigorously is immune to the soreness and stiffness that follows a tough workout.
That’s because all forms of exercise cause microscopic damage to muscle fibers. This ultimately directs the muscles to grow and strengthen as they heal – but these tiny tears initially set off the body’s natural inflammatory response, resulting in stiff, achy muscles that can last for hours or days.
But instead of reaching for ibuprofen or menthol rub to ease the pain, athletes and fitness experts are increasingly turning to CBD to boost post-workout recovery.
Tara Laferrara, a Colorado-based personal trainer, learned about CBD while studying to become a yoga teacher. A lifelong athlete, she’s always looking for new ways to ease sore muscles, so she decided to give CBD topicals a try.
“I just put it on aches and pains in specific areas, like the knee and ankle. I just thought, ‘I’m going to see how this works for four to six weeks.’ And it was really awesome,” she says. “It would take away some of the pain and relieve the soreness. It made me want to add it to my daily life.”
Turn the volume down on occasional inflammation.
While specific research on CBD and exercise isn’t yet available, ample studies attest to cannabidiol’s pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory potential. CBD has been found to reduce pain and inflammation, while a review of 132 original studies published last year in Frontiers in Neurology found that CBD reduced inflammation and improved pain and mobility in people with serious conditions.
“It is anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, antiemetic, antipsychotic and neuroprotective,” the review authors wrote, adding that CBD also reduced anxiety and depression and diminished patients’ use of opiate painkillers.
Bryan Pettit, an Iowa-based fitness expert and founder of GoldenTrainer.com, first heard about CBD from his clients.
“I was kind of skeptical because it seemed like it cures everything,” Pettit says. But his research inspired him to give it a shot, and he started taking a sublingual tincture every morning.
“I noticed my muscular and body recovery was a lot faster, where there’s not that prolonged soreness that inhibits the next workout,” he says. “The faster recovery allows for repetitious workouts from one day to the next. Or even if somebody has a strenuous job, they’re not in pain from one day to the next.”
Beyond physical benefits.
While he appreciated the reduced recovery time — and the relief of pain in his arm he’d suffered for months — the most profound benefits Pettit discovered with CBD weren’t physical at all. Within days of starting his tincture regimen, Pettit says he experienced a distinct sense of mental clarity and stress relief.
An entrepreneur who runs his own training gym and online store (where he now sells CBD), Pettit says he’d sometimes get so overwhelmed with his daily duties that he’d be paralyzed with anxiety. CBD has helped quiet those worries and allowed him to focus.
“I feel like I’ve become more productive with the time that I have because I’m not freezing myself up with all the anxieties,” he says.
Laferrara, too, lauds the calming and balancing effects of CBD. After finding infused salves effective for spot pain relief, she incorporated a sublingual tincture into her daily regimen.
“For someone that moves all the time — I teach classes, I work out myself, I’m always on my feet — so I use it in the morning to calm my mind and help me focus,” she says. “And at night I use it to bring me down into sleepiness.”
For athletes looking to experiment with CBD, Laferrara says post-workout topicals are a great place to start. Most exercisers are already accustomed to treating sore muscles with analgesic creams, and CBD-infused options promise even greater benefits.
“Your skin is your biggest organ, and it has tons of cannabinoid receptors,” says Dr. Andrew Kerklaan, a physician and CBD advocate. “Cannabinoids can really impact the three physical things we complain about the most: pain from nerves, inflammation and muscle tension.”
And the benefits may extend way beyond the gym.