When a particularly intense workout leaves you with aching muscles, your first instinct may be to summon over-the-counter pain relief via aspirin, Advil or Aleve. These oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs all reduce inflammation, which is great for reducing pain. What’s not so great is that they promote overall systemic reductions in inflammation, including the inflammation that results from weight training. That inflammation is a trigger for muscle growth, so taking NSAIDs can actually undercut that muscle-building stimulation.
The trick, then, is how to get local pain relief without blunting muscle growth. Instead of popping pain relievers, you may be better off applying the pain-reducing and healing benefits of a topical arnica cream or gel to the sore or injured area. Arnica is derived from the Arnica montana plant, which has long been used as an anti-inflammatory treatment for bruises and other minor injuries. The scientific debate continues over the degree to which arnica calms inflammation, but anecdotal evidence supports its ability to reduce pain, swelling and bruising.
If you experience pain during or shortly after training, you may have suffered a minor injury — as opposed to delayed onset muscle soreness, which is a healthy sign of a good workout. If you suspect an injury, ice the area before applying topical arnica. In the event of a significant injury, seek a doctor’s evaluation before heading back to the gym.