It's a blessing and a curse, isn't it? Sore muscles are literally a pain, but they also represent recent physical activity that challenged your muscles in one way or another. But there's a difference between being sore and being injured, so if your soreness prevents additional activity and lasts for days with extensive pain—you might want to seek advice from your doctor. If your muscles ache simply because you hit it hard at the gym, or participated in a sport that you haven't played in a while, then you're just experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness. Otherwise known as DOMS—pesky little side effect, sneaking up on you like that a day or two after the main event!
DOMS occurs when little tiny muscle fibers are torn because they've been pushed beyond what they're used to. No, it's not a full-blown pulled muscle, just normal wear and, well...tear. To fight it, make sure you munch on some carbs and protein after your workout to help your muscles recover. And if you anticipate soreness in a specific muscle, find some ice. It just might curb that soreness down the road. But topical ointments like BenGay, heating pads or an anti-inflammatory like Ibuprofin or Tylenol can alleviate some of the pain when it pops up, but they won't speed up your recovery. (Always check with your doctor before you take an anti-inflammatory.) And if you're wondering whether or not to exercise with sore muscles, I say give yourself an extra day of rest if there's any question. It's not worth the risk of additional injury.