Physiotherapists reveal the best over-the-counter remedies
What you knead to unknot those aching muscles: Two physiotherapists reveal the best over-the-counter remedies
- Aptonia roll on massage tool is good at easing contractures (or knots) in body
- Hotteeze disposable pads aren’t recommended as the heat doesn’t reach skin
- Tim Allardyce, a physiotherapist in London, recommends compression socks
With more than 650 muscles in the body, it’s easy to pull, strain or tire one or two of them when exercising or going about everyday tasks.
But which over-the-counter remedies are worth buying?
Here, Gary Jones, a consultant physiotherapist at Physio 206 in Birmingham and Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, and Tim Allardyce, a physiotherapist at Surrey Physio in London, assess a selection of products.
We then rate them.
The Daily Mail has tried out several over-the-counter remedies for muscle pain (file photo)
Buerer MG40 infrared massager
CLAIM: The head of this massaging device vibrates and heats up using infrared radiation. The maker says it can be used to treat aches and tension, circulatory disorders and fatigue.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘There has been good research into how massage and heat increase blood flow. This can ease sore muscles,’ says Gary Jones.
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‘But it won’t heal a muscle injury. Years ago there was a suggestion that infrared therapy would help tissue healing, but there’s been no good clinical research to support this.
‘I would steer clear of this device in the early stages of an injury as heat will make the pain worse over the initial three to five days.
‘It may even delay the recovery, as increased blood flow will lead to more pain and swelling.’
Consultant physiotherapist Gary Jones says you should avoid the Buerer MG40 infrared massager in the early stages of an injury as heat will make the pain worse over the initial three to five days
Aptonia roll on massage tool
CLAIM: You roll the ball over sore muscles. The maker suggests spending five minutes on each muscle group to ease contractures (or knots).
You roll the ball over sore muscles. The maker suggests spending five minutes on each muscle group to ease contractures (or knots)
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘This is robust with a comfy grip, and it glides over muscles effectively,’ says Tim Allardyce. ‘You can use it over tight, tense muscles around the body. I found it was comfortable and therapeutic for my tense neck muscles.’
‘When you roll it over a sore muscle, you are breaking down adhesions [tissue that forms due to inflammation] so your muscles feel looser.
‘This is simple to use and just the right size to work on niggly muscles. Those with sensitive skin or very sore muscles should use the tool gently until it becomes bearable.
‘But a treatment from a trained physio would be more effective, as it will help to mobilise your joints as well as strengthen the muscles.’
Hotteeze disposable heat pads
£9.95 for pack of ten, completecare shop.co.uk
CLAIM: Once the packet is opened, the iron filling inside the pad reacts with oxygen in the air and releases heat. It reaches 50c within ten minutes.
You stick the single-use pads on clothing close to a sore muscle — never directly onto skin. The pads are said to reduce inflammation as well as increase blood flow.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘Heat can benefit sore muscles as it encourages blood flow and is soothing,’ says Tim Allardyce. ‘Warmer muscles help painful joints move more easily.
‘The problem is you apply this on clothing rather than skin as it gets very hot, so not enough heat passes to the skin.
‘There was barely any warmth on my neck when I tried it. I got no relief. A hot water bottle is better.’
You stick the single-use pads on clothing close to a sore muscle — never directly onto skin. But not enough heat passes on to the skin, so it isn’t effective
CEP recovery compression socks
‘These socks are good for anyone who does lots of walking or who is on their feet for hours at work. They can reduce muscle cramping and aching calves linked to blood pooling in the legs,’ says Tim Allardyce
CLAIM: This pair of long compression socks, made of polyamide and Spandex, helps pump blood from the lower legs back up towards the heart.
The yarn has a bioactive compound that’s warmed up by the body, increasing blood flow and making muscles less painful, it is claimed.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘These socks are good for anyone who does lots of walking or who is on their feet for hours at work. They can reduce muscle cramping and aching calves linked to blood pooling in the legs,’ says Tim Allardyce.
‘Studies have shown that the calf pump mechanism (the body’s way of pumping blood back to the heart) is 30 per cent more efficient when wearing compression socks.
‘A good fit is key to the socks working properly. The CEP ones come in various sizes — so always check measurements before you buy to make sure that they’ll benefit you.’
Alive magnesium plus muscle ease bath foam
Gary Jones said: ‘There is research to show magnesium can help with cramp if taken orally, but no strong proof that the body can absorb it through your skin in a bath’
£3.50 for 500ml, sainsburys.com
CLAIM: This contains Dead Sea salts and eucalyptus, as well as magnesium — a mineral that’s said to relieve stiff muscles. The foam is claimed to ‘melt away aches and pains’.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘For generally achy muscles, rather than a specific injury, a warm bath could help by increasing blood flow and relaxing you,’ says Gary Jones. ‘If you have an injury, try sitting in an ice bath for ten minutes instead — if you can tolerate it — as it’s better at aiding muscle recovery after exercise.
‘Ice can reduce the inflammation — heat, at this stage, may make pain worse.
‘There is research to show magnesium can help with cramp if taken orally, but no strong proof that the body can absorb it through your skin in a bath.’
Body back buddy massage tool
CLAIM: This S-shaped plastic tool is just over 2ft long and has 11 knobs on it, which, according to the maker, let you ‘locate and relieve tension, spasms, muscle knots and trigger points’ to cure aches and pains. It also comes with a 12-page user guide.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘The nobbles and protrusions will help you to press on trigger points or tender parts of the muscle,’ says Tim Allardyce.
‘When I used it, I was impressed that the tool did exactly what it said it could — it loosened up tight and knotty muscles. This can offer genuine pain relief.
‘However, it can take time to find the exact positions that make it work best for each muscle. It is also large — so small-framed people might struggle with the size — but it does come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
‘Use it daily for around ten minutes.’
This S-shaped plastic tool is just over 2ft long and has 11 knobs on it, which, according to the maker, let you ‘locate and relieve tension, spasms, muscle knots and trigger points’
£9.99 for 118ml, boots.com
The cooling menthol formula, when sprayed onto the affected area, creates a sensation which is said to override pain signals to the brain
CLAIM: The cooling menthol formula, when sprayed onto the affected area, creates a sensation which is said to override pain signals to the brain.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘This is a great product. I’d have no hesitation in recommending it to my patients, as it is supported by good research,’ says Gary Jones.
‘Cold therapy is wonderful for managing acute muscle injuries, especially those which are three to five days old, where there is a lot of inflammation.
‘The cold sensation restricts blood vessels and reduces blood flow, which lowers inflammation and reduces the release of compounds in the blood that cause pain and swelling.
‘For a similar effect, hold frozen vegetables in a damp towel on the muscle for about ten minutes.’
Sports laboratory neck support brace
Tim Allardyce said: ‘I am doubtful of the claims made here, as I don’t know of evidence that the brace materials can reduce pain or swelling’
CLAIM: This soft collar is worn around the neck for 30 minutes.
It’s embedded with self-heating magnets and tourmaline, a semi-precious stone which reflects body heat. The maker says it can ease neck, shoulder and back pain, as well as swelling and inflammation.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘The brace wasn’t too uncomfortable at first and provided some support for my neck,’ says Tim Allardyce. ‘I followed the instructions but, after ten minutes of wearing it, the back of my neck was itchy and the heat was causing an unpleasant, tingling sensation.
‘Even after taking it off, my neck continued to feel hot and tingle for a further ten minutes, as if my skin had been irritated — and I don’t have sensitive skin.
‘I am doubtful of the claims made here, as I don’t know of evidence that the brace materials can reduce pain or swelling.’
Omron heattens pain reliever
Now £99.99, omron-healthcare.co.uk
CLAIM: This device uses transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), which sends electrical pulses to interrupt pain signals.
You apply pads to the skin near the muscles and switch it on. The intensity is adjustable. The maker advises two 15-minute sessions in one sitting, up to three times a day.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘TENS units can be helpful in easing pain,’ says Gary Jones. ‘For a bad back, you might want the intense setting. But for sore arms, you might want the more soothing one.
‘It is worth trying for chronic muscle injuries, but it is not a miracle cure. It can take several uses to benefit. This is a costly TENS model, so maybe start with a more basic version.’
‘TENS units can be helpful in easing pain,’ says Gary Jones. ‘For a bad back, you might want the intense setting. But for sore arms, you might want the more soothing one’
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