Topical rubs, creams and gels
Examples: Deep Relief Warming Muscle Ache Relief Ultra Strength Rub; Icy Hot Pain Relieving Cream; Rub-A535 Heat; Voltaren Gel
How they work: “[Deep Relief, Icy Hot and Rub-A535] are counterirritants, which trick the brain into paying more attention to the warming or cooling sensation than to pain,” says Jasmine McCue, a pharmacist at Extra Foods in Kamloops, B.C. All three contain methyl salicylate (which produces warmth), while Deep Relief and Icy Hot also have menthol (which stimulates cold receptors). Diclofenac sodium (Voltaren) is a topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, or NSAID, that penetrates skin for local pain relief. “Using NSAIDs topically instead of orally can minimize side effects such as stomach upset,” says McCue.
Need to know: Apply to the affected area three to four times daily. Do not cover or use in combination with heat or ice therapy. Discontinue if you notice irritation or redness. Topical NSAIDs can be used with oral pain relievers and muscle relaxants, but talk to your doctor if you take blood-thinning medication.