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Muscle rubs may not be best for pain

July 8, 2009 |  5:09 pm

Muscle pain often sends people scrambling for muscle rubs -- but do they actually work?

Hhdbl9kf Not in all cases, according to a recent Cochrane Library study, which reviewed previous studies comparing muscle pain relief via rubefacients -- topical rubs that cause skin redness by dilating the capillaries and increasing blood flow -- to topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Here, in part, is what the BBC had to say about it:

"They looked at 16 studies involving nearly 1,300 patients using creams containing salicylate -- a close drug relative of aspirin.

"Results from four of the studies showed topical salicylates performed better than dummy (placebo) creams against acute pain, but when lower quality studies were excluded, the results were not statistically significant.

"Again, when used for chronic conditions, salicylates performed better than placebos.

"But only one in six patients with chronic pain from conditions like osteoarthritis benefited substantially from using the muscle rubs compared with one in three using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkiller gels like ibuprofen or diclofenac."

The review concluded that more research -- specifically large, good-quality clinical trials -- is needed to determine the effectiveness of muscle rubs.

Considering how many athletes and exercisers (including weekend warriors) use these rubs, the study's conclusion is worth considering. But keep in mind that topical NSAIDs are not without their side effects, such as gastrointestinal problems, although some studies show they have fewer complications than oral NSAIDs.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Charles Bush