Relieving sore muscles

Comments (2)
By Peter Hadzipetros

Nothing says it's been an active weekend more than showing up for work Monday morning and being bowled over by that unmistakable nasal-clearing odour of someone's attempt to chemically mask muscle aches.

Yup, rub that stuff onto your skin and the muscle soreness will be gone within a few days.

Guess what? Don't rub anything onto your skin and the soreness will be gone within a few days.

By its very nature, exercise stresses your muscles. Every time you pump iron, go for a run, or dig out your garden, you are subjecting your muscles to microscopic tears. Usually, you don't feel them. As they heal — within a day or so — they heal stronger. It's what makes you fitter. Even when you overdo it and feel sore for a few days.

I was stunned when I heard about a 17-year-old track star who died of an accidental overdose of methyl salicylate, the wintergreen-scented ingredient found in liniments like BenGay, Icy Hot and Tiger Balm.

You could be putting yourself at risk if you rub the stuff over 40 per cent or more of your body. The New York City girl put the muscle cream on her legs and used adhesive pads containing the anti-inflammatory. The theory is the warmth generated by the cream gets down into your muscles and helps relieve the pain.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't think the stuff does that. The agency's over the counter review panel rejected claims that muscle creams containing ingredients like methyl salicylate penetrate the skin and bring warmth into the muscle. Using these kinds of creams is compared to scratching an itch, masking the underlying discomfort.

So what's a sore athlete to do? Take steps to avoid getting sore in the first place. Don't overdo it. If you're getting into a new exercise program, take it easy. Don't increase your exercise load by more than 10 per cent per week. Stretch, if you believe that helps — but only when your muscles have warmed up.

If you are sore, do some easy low-impact aerobic exercise — this will increase blood flow to the affected muscles, which may help reduce soreness. Ice the sore area but for no more than 20 minutes at a time for the first two or three days. After that, heat therapy — like wrapping a heating pad around your sore leg — is usually more effective.

A registered massage therapist may be an option. A session won't take care of the soreness right away, but it sure feels good. Gently massaging the sore areas yourself may also help relieve some of the pain.

But those creams? Unless you're chasing Hank Aaron's home run record, I'd think twice.

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SWIM, that's the way to overcome muscle, joint, and nerve related pain. It might take a few days or weeks, but the stress on the hurting part is far less than doing some exercise where you are not totally supported-floating in water. And after a good swim, get into the hot tub and let the jets pound and massage the sore parts as you do stretches. Make sure to stretch opposite muscle groups: if you stretch you hamstrings by putting a leg up on the edge of the hot tub, then do the opposite quads by reaching around behind and grabbing an ankle. All the while you are in the hot water, nearly floating and getting relaxed. Sometimes tension in our minds makes our bodies sore. So go for a $4 swim instead of a $40 massage.

Posted June 15, 2007 07:37 AM



I find that as a society we are excessive generally. We super-size our meals, over medicate ourselves, have too many outfits & shoes in our closets, over-exercise to lose weight, and the list can go on. The problem is not the cream or the FDA approving lotions that can be dangerous. The problem is that we decide that everything we use is safe b/c it is on the shelf and choose not to read labels and if we do we read the label then we choose not to follow the instructions. Society has to learn that we need to use caution and exercise moderation when using medicated creams, powders, & tablets.

I am one of those people who reads the labels for most everything I purchase. If not for the funny factor then b/c I want to learn how to use the product properly. My hair blow drier label advised not to use while in the shower if you can imagine. Labels are made for a reason and it is probably b/c someone has misused the product and that is why there is a label on it. On the product label of one sports cream I read it says do not use more than 4 times per day and one patch is to be used for 8 hours. Therefore, if a person uses basically the same product with a different name then they will have problems.

Let's remember that the user has to be aware and read labels and use products as directed and if unclear on how to use a product then go and get assistance from a doctor or pharmacist.

Let's learn to exercise judgment & caution when using medicated products and remember that if we misuse a product then we are at fault for our own ignorance b/c ignorance is not an excuse.

Posted June 14, 2007 01:27 PM

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About the Author

Peter HadzipetrosPeter Hadzipetros is a producer for the Consumer and Health sites of CBC News Online. Until he got off the couch and got into long distance running a few years ago, he was a net importer of calories.

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