Most of us have pulled a muscle or experienced sore joints at one time or another. Luckily, pain relief ointments and sprays exist to alleviate these issues.
Prevents Muscle Cramps
You must stop exercising and stretch the tense, tight muscles when muscle cramps occur. You can also apply a counter-irritant such as menthol to reduce the pain and relax the muscles. This will allow the muscles to stretch more and prevent them from tearing.
Some topical creams and gels contain arnica, a natural plant extract that can relieve muscle cramps. It works by blocking the nerve signals to the brain, thus reducing pain and numbing the area. Other ingredients that can be found in many topical pain relief products are ibuprofen, indomethacin, and diclofenac sodium.
These are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that can reduce pain by lowering inflammation levels. A study that compared the effectiveness of a menthol-based topical analgesic and ice to ease muscle soreness reported that the analgesic was more effective than ice in alleviating soreness. It also permitted greater evoked tetanic force to be produced than ice.
Increases Blood Circulation
Many pain relief formulas, like the topical pain relief cream, roll-ons, and liniments, incorporate ingredients that increase blood circulation. These include capsaicin, the main ingredient in hot chili peppers, which creates a warm tingling sensation that improves over time, and lidocaine, which numbs the pain.
Some also incorporate herbs and natural oils such as wintergreen, which has the chemical relative of aspirin to reduce inflammation-related pain by dilating blood vessels and improving circulation. Most of these formulas are safe to use and should be applied 4-6 times daily for the best results. Be sure to wash your hands well before and after application. Do not apply over broken skin, and avoid touching your eyes or mucous membranes.
Unlike oral medications that take time to enter the bloodstream and work throughout the body, applying a rub or ointment immediately targets specific areas. It activates receptors to produce anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and counter-irritant effects.
Over-the-counter (OTC) topical analgesics typically contain salicylates, capsaicin, menthol, and camphor ingredients. These can be found in creams, gels, patches, sprays, and wraps applied to the skin.
Menthol-based topical analgesics augment stretch tolerance to increase ROM, which benefits extreme flexibility athletes such as gymnasts and dancers. However, caution must be exercised as exceeding the normal tensile strength of muscles, and tendons can lead to muscle and tendon strain.
Athletes must be careful when using any topical analgesic, as excessive use can cause redness, irritation, or skin blistering. It is also important that athletes follow the guidelines provided by their athletic trainer or coach. If an athlete needs help applying the product, they should seek advice from their medical provider.