Finally, the active ingredients within a pain relief cream interact with local nerve endings to damp down inflammation, reduce pain and swelling and ease stiffness. All these different actions make topical, rub-in creams and gels highly effective for treating painful joints, sore muscles and sport injuries. Here, I’ve reviewed what I believe are the best pain relief creams, sore muscle creams and pain relief gels.


The use of fish oil (in the form of cod liver oil), an omega-3 EFA, for the treatment of muscular, skeletal, and discogenic diseases, can be traced back to the late 18th century as detailed by Curtis et al.,[24,25] Unfortunately, because of the rapid onset of rancidity of this polyunsaturated oil when exposed to air, and hence its disconcerting odor, cod liver oil fell out of favor. With improved extraction techniques, such as using a protective nitrogen blanket and enhanced oxygen-free encapsulation methods, there is less chance of oxidation during the manufacturing process. The therapeutic benefits of fish oil can now be realized without the regurgitation and odor of previous products caused by peroxides and rancid tasting fish oil.[14]
Prolotherapy treatments work by naturally promoting a minor inflammatory response near damaged connective tissue, promoting regeneration and the growth of new, healthier tissue in the process. These treatments have been used to effectively reduce or heal chronic musculoskeletal conditions of the back, such as herniated/bulging discs, arthritis, osteoarthritis or other chronic joint pains, and tendonitis that affects the lower body and causes compensations in the spine. (7) For the most benefits, it seems that prolotherapy works best when combined with other back pain treatments, such as spinal manipulation, exercise and in some cases medications when needed.
Low back pain and neck pain often involve a substantial amount of muscle pain,22 and muscle pain is not particularly inflammatory by nature. Muscle knots (trigger points) are more like poisoned muscle than injured muscle. Although there’s some anecdotal evidence that taking an anti-inflammatory medication reduces muscle pain, mostly it doesn’t seem to work very well. One of the classic signs of low back pain powered by muscle, for instance, is that ibuprofen doesn’t have much effect!
As part of your exercise routine, you may want to consider doing yoga regularly for lower back pain relief. One study of over 960 people with low back pain found that those who completed a 12-week yoga program experienced greater improvements in back function and reduced pain compared to controls who did not participate. (4) There’s even evidence that mindfulness meditation, often practiced in some form with yoga, can also help people deal with chronic back pain more effectively. (5)
Rosenzweig, S., Greeson, J. M., Reibel, D. K., Green, J. S., Jasser, S. A., & Beasley, D. (2010, January). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for chronic pain conditions: Variation in treatment outcomes and role of home meditation practice. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 68(1), 29–36. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022399909000944
I’m not saying NSAIDs are useless. They have their place. If you’re recovering from surgery or a major injury, traditional over-the-counter pain relievers are good for controlling inflammation, swelling, and pain, but NSAIDs are far too powerful for over-the-counter, everyday use. Unlike a lot of natural pain relievers, NSAIDs also don’t address the cause of inflammation or pain; they just mask the symptoms.
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