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Muscle pain relief

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read
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We’ve all been there – the day after a heavy workout, a twisted ankle or an accidental bang or bruise to one of the many muscles in our body. Muscles and the pain they produce can cause a great deal of torment!

Here at Healthwords we have recommendations for a sensible pain relief ladder to follow, along with some top tips to soothe those painful symptoms.

Doctor’s advice

The catch-all: acetaminophen

Acetaminophen is usually a safe and sensible place to start when reaching for pain relief, with relatively few risks or side effects if taken as instructed. It’s well-tolerated and may be sufficient for occasional mild pain that occurs for just a brief time. For a drug that’s been around for more than 100 years, it’s not well understood how acetaminophen works or in which area of the brain it works, but it likely stops chemical neurotransmitters from transmitting a pain message.

It’s most effective if taken regularly and for a short period of time, up to a few days. It’s preferred over ibuprofen as it’s considered safer, but they offer a similar level of pain relief.

You should be careful to take no more than the recommended maximum and beware of other products containing acetaminophen, such as cold and flu treatments, so you don’t double-dose. The liver clears it, so you should check with a doctor if you have any liver problems. It causes liver toxicity if taken above the recommended dose.

Rarely may people experience stomach upset, a rash, or blood disorders. You don’t need a prescription for acetaminophen; it’s available to buy from any pharmacy. But you should consult your doctor if you’re taking it for more than a couple of weeks or needing to turn to it very often.

Beating inflammation: NSAIDs

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a class of medications that work on pain and reduce inflammation. Ibuprofen has a similar effect on pain as acetaminophen but can be particularly effective in cases such as muscle pain, where a muscle gets inflamed, causing much of the pain.

Ibuprofen and naproxen are available to buy from any pharmacy, but stronger NSAIDs such as diclofenac or indomethacin require a prescription.

NSAIDs can cause increased acid production in the stomach, causing some discomfort, so you should always take them with food. Because of this, they carry the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, which means those with a history of bleeding, a stomach ulcer, or the elderly should avoid them. If taken for several weeks or more, your doctor may prescribe a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) to reduce the risk of a stomach ulcer from forming. NSAIDs can also trigger certain types of asthma and exacerbate existing kidney disease, so they should be avoided in these cases.

Targeting severe pain: opioids

Opioids include a wide-ranging scope of pain relief, from codeine at the mildest end to tramadol as a medium strength and different forms of morphine at the strongest end. Side effects become more pronounced with stronger doses – commonly constipation, drowsiness, and feeling dizzy, sick, or slightly out of it. Certain people seem more susceptible to this “wooziness” than others.

Opioids are only available on prescription.

If you need stronger painkillers, you should probably see your doctor about your muscle pain. It may need to be assessed to see if there is another underlying cause.

Home remedies

Before reaching for the pain tablets, we’d recommend starting with some good old-fashioned home treatment. This may be all that is needed for the majority of mild muscle aches and pains. Start small by resting the painful muscles. Try ice on the area to help reduce swelling and inflammation in the first two or three days after an injury. Then after a day or so of rest, you can start gentle stretching exercises to get the muscles moving again. Massage with an oil or cream can be beneficial – even better if you can convince a loved one to do it. Heat can be soothing and healing for aching muscles – you can try a hot water bottle or heat pads – to get the muscles back to full working order after the third or fourth day.

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Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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