Did you know that you have more than 600 muscles in your body? At some point in your child’s life, one of them is bound to get sore. Here’s how you can help.

A child’s muscles might feel sore after exercise, doing any activity that’s harder than he’s used to, or if he overuses a muscle during sports. Ice, heat and medicine can all help him feel better. Parents should know how to use all three. Just remember, if your child has a sprain or strain, talk to her pediatrician before you try any at-home treatments.

Tips for Using Ice

  • Use a cold pack or ice wrapped in a wet cloth.
  • Put the ice on the sore muscle for 20 minutes. This can be done two to three times per day. Do not use ice more than once an hour.
  • Do not leave ice on too long or use too often. This can cause frostbite.
  • Do not use ice:
    • if the area you are icing becomes numb
    • if your child has a vascular (blood vessel) disease that causes poor circulation
    • on an open wound
    • right before physical activity

Ice can be used to treat pain or swelling. You don’t need to switch to heat after 48 hours. You also don’t need to switch between ice and heat.

Tips for Using Heat

  • Use a heat pack, heating pad or warm, wet washcloth.
  • Place heat over a sore muscle for 10 minutes. Repeat as needed.
  • Do not leave heat on too long, use too often or use high temperatures. This can cause burns. Also, heat may increase swelling and inflammation.

Tips for Giving Medicine Safely

Before you give your child any medicine, ask the following questions:

  • Is the medicine safe to use for his age?
  • What other medicines is he using?
  • How much of the medicine is he using?
  • How many times a day is he using it and for how many days?

Always follow directions on medicine labels if you give a child a pain reliever such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Pain relievers applied to a child’s skin, such as Bengay, Icy Hot or Salonpas, are meant for children ages 12 and older. Read directions and warnings, and know what side effects to watch for before using them on your child. Also:

  • Apply only to the muscle that’s sore, not to large areas of the body.
  • Do not cover the area with a bandage after applying the ointment or cream.
  • Do not apply to damaged or irritated skin.

When to Call the Doctor
Always talk to a doctor if you think your child needs to be seen or if your child has any of the following:

  • a limp
  • fever
  • general pain lasts more than two weeks
  • muscle pain that lasts longer than seven days
  • pain that gets very bad
  • pain that doesn’t get better after three days of treatment
  • swollen joints

For more help with treating your child’s pain or injury, download the free St. Louis Children’s Hospital Kid Care App.

If you would like information on muscle soreness sent to you via email or mail, contact the Center for Families Resource Library at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. The Center for Families Resource Library is 100-percent funded by generous donations to the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Foundation.


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