How Can I Treat Muscle Strain or Pain?

Published: September 07, 2023
Barbara Young
By Barbara Young, PharmD

How Can I Treat Muscle Strain or Pain?
Do you have muscle pain from overdoing your workout or from weekend activities or chores? Here are some useful tips to treat your injury and to provide pain relief.

What should I do to treat a strain or sprain?
For mild sprains and strains, such as those involving the ankle, follow the RICE recommendations for the first few days after the injury to help reduce swelling:

  • Rest: Rest the injured part until the pain decreases.
  • Ice: Wrap an icepack in a towel and place over the injured part immediately. Continue for up to 20 minutes at a time, four to eight times a day.
  • Compression: If possible, support the injured part with an elastic compression bandage for at least 2 days.
  • Elevation: If possible, raise the injured part above heart level to decrease swelling.

What medications should I take for pain relief?
You can take medications for pain such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Motrin®).

Topical products, such as creams and patches, may be used on the skin and have the advantage of placing the drug close to the site of pain. This is helpful for people who cannot tolerate taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) by mouth due to side effects or certain medical conditions (e.g., heart disease or stomach ulcers).

Which topical products are available?
Topical products that contain salicylate, which is like aspirin, are available to reduce inflammation and pain. Some of these products, such as Aspercreme® or Bengay®, may include other ingredients such as menthol or camphor. Some products may also contain lidocaine, a medication used to numb the pain in joints and muscles.

Capsaicin creams and patches can also be used to decrease the sensation of pain at the place of injury.

Diclofenac gel (Voltaren® Arthritis Pain; also available generically) has also been studied to manage pain locally and to decrease inflammation and swelling. It should be used in small amounts and only placed on the affected area.

Do I need to see a doctor to get these medications?
The products mentioned here are available over the counter without a prescription. Your pharmacist can help you select the best product for your specific pain—be sure to tell them if you have any medical conditions or if you are taking other medications.

Treatment of strained and sprained muscles should focus on controlling pain and swelling. If your condition does not improve in several days or worsens, you should talk to your doctor.

Related Articles

subscribe section background