Pain relief - 3 low risk ways to treat muscle and joint pain

Localised pain in a joint or muscle can be caused by many different injuries or wear and tear, from an acute strain or sprain to osteoarthritis and other chronic pain conditions. Our pharmacists will discuss with you the best treatment for your condition, but the products available to relieve the pain are often the same. Creams and rubs can be used without as many side effects as oral medicines, so let’s have a look at some of these treatment options.

Topical treatments are those that you apply to the skin in the sore area. They can be especially useful for joints close to the skin’s surface like the knee or hand. By applying the product directly to the joint, less is absorbed through the whole body and the risk of side effects has been shown to be much lower. 

Topical Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)

Include voltaren gel and nurofen gel and can be used for up to two weeks at a time for sprains, strains and sports injuries or up to three weeks at a time for arthritis. They work by blocking the COX-enzymes in the body to stop them producing prostaglandins that lead to inflammation and pain. Studies have found that therapeutic levels are reached whether they are taken as a tablet or applied to the skin but it is important to note that you shouldn’t use both together unless your doctor says to. Their effect increases over time with a significant effect after a week and offer 50% or better reduction in pain.


Are thought to relieve pain by stimulating the pain receptors until they desensitise them. Examples include capsaicin (zostrix) or a salicylate (dencorub, deep heat, metsal) which create heat and redness in the area. Capsaicin is the fiery component of chilies and is a strong irritant. It can take up to four weeks to have its effect so needs to be used regularly. It is important that it is applied to cool, unbroken skin and kept away from the eyes and sensitive areas.

Magnesium oil

Is a very interesting new product available now in New Zealand. Magnesium is the eighth most common mineral in the earth’s crust and involved in more than 300 functions in our bodies. We use it to strengthen bones, for energy, brain function, muscle and nerve function, joint cartilage maintenance, blood sugar levels and for our hearts. It is also thought to be a major factor in inflammation and may be able to be used to switch off the pain receptors on the nerves.

Foods rich in magnesium include almonds, cashews, peanuts, soybeans, spinach, potatoes and whole grains. Ideally, many more of our foods would be rich in magnesium, but our soils are so depleted it doesn’t enter the food chain in high enough concentrations for ongoing health. The lovely thing with magnesium is that it is absorbed through the skin much more effectively than through the gut so you can actually get ideal blood levels using an oil or bath flakes.

Amazing Oils tells a story of an older man who approached them with severely gnarled hands from arthritis. 10 minutes after rubbing the oil into his hands, his wife dragged him back to the stand with tears in her eyes as she held up her husband’s hand … “He hasn’t been able to hold my hand in five years!” she exclaimed, and showed his unfolded fingers. If you would like to try the oil for yourself, pop in store, we'd love to show you.

Other non-drug remedies that can be helpful to relieve pain include massage, heat packs, supports and elastic wraps.

If you are experiencing ongoing pain, it is important to get it checked with your doctor to investigate the underlying cause. Osteoarthritis is the most common condition causing pain and disability. Symptoms that distinguish it include localised pain; pain that is worse at the end of the day and made worse with activity; morning stiffness and disability of the joint. If you are experiencing these symptoms, make an appointment to see your doctor.



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