The best remedies for post-workout muscle pain

Soothe post-workout muscle aches and pains with these over-the-counter remedies

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Topical rubs, creams and gels

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.

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tylenol

Pain relief; muscle relaxants

Examples: Tylenol Muscle Aches & Body Pain; Advil Muscle & Joint; Axum; Meth­oxacet; Robaxacet; Robaxin

How they work: Aceta­minophen (Tylenol) targets the parts of the brain that receive pain messages, while ibuprofen (Advil) is an NSAID that reduces the body's production of prostaglandins, hormone-like compounds that send pain messages to the brain. NSAIDs can also reduce inflammation. "If you've overworked your muscles, swelling, redness and heat are signs of inflammation," says McCue. Methocarbamol (Robaxin) is a muscle relaxant that blocks nerve impulses sent to your brain. "These are useful if you have a muscle that tightens up or spasms and causes pain," McCue says. Methocarbamol is also sold combined with acetaminophen (Robaxacet and Methoxacet), and with ibuprofen (Axum). Ask your pharmacist which version is right for you.

Need to know: Follow the package directions. Methocarbamol may cause drowsiness, and should never be used with alcohol or when driving or operating machinery. NSAIDs may cause stomach upset. Check with your doctor if you have a pre-existing health condition or if you are on blood thinners.

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lakota

Natural remedies

Examples: Lakota Maximum Strength Muscle Pain; Badger Sore Muscle Rub; Boiron Arnicare Cream; Hyland's Arnica 30x; KT Tape; Now Foods Super Enzymes; Tiger Balm Pain Relieving Patch

How they work: Arnica (Boiron, Hyland's) is a plant-derived ingredient that accelerates the body's ability to heal by stimulating its response to injury, says Victor Chan, a naturopathic doctor at Performax Health Group in Burnaby, B.C. Topical ointments (Boiron) can be applied to the affected area, whereas oral versions (Hyland's) are useful for general post-workout soreness. Herbal blends such as Lakota, which contains white willow bark, boswellia and yucca root, are natural anti-inflammatories. "They don't have the gastric side effects that you may get from regular NSAIDs," adds Chan. Capsicum extract (Badger, Tiger Balm) warms sore muscles and improves circulation, and if used over a long period can reduce inflammation. Oral enzyme blends (Now Foods) are derived from natural sources such as papaya and pineapple. They can accelerate the breakdown of the compounds in the body that cause inflammation, thereby reducing muscle aches, pains and swelling, says Chan. KT Tape is an elastic sports tape you apply to sore areas; it can also be used anywhere you need extra support for muscles and tendons. "Taping is one of the most effective, non-invasive ways to deal with and prevent injuries," says Chan. It gives damaged tissue a chance to rest.

Need to know: Follow package directions. Do not use topical medications in combination with heat or ice therapy. Discontinue use if you notice irritation or redness. Arnica does not interact with other medications, but check with your doctor before using Lakota if you have an existing health condition or are taking other medications.

Related:
Sports injuries: Should you use ice or heat?
7 proven ways to end muscle pain
How to ease muscle pain after exercise