What to use when your muscles and joints are sore or strained

Muscle and joint pain do not only happen because of physical activities at the gym, or on the sports field. The reality is that the most common causes of injuries to our muscles, tendons, and ligaments can be caused by everyday activities1. This can include anything from poor posture, carrying heavy bags or even neck strain from extended use of a computer, smartphone or tablet2.

When it comes to pain relief, the range of products to treat sore joints and muscles can seem overwhelming, with many types of creams, gels, rubs, and packs available3.

Here are some tips on what to use when:

Ant-inflammatory gel

An anti-inflammatory gel can provide relief for strains and sprains as well as muscle, tendon or ligament injuries4.

Gels that contain benzydamine4, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), work to reduce pain and inflammation in the body by reducing the production of hormone-like substances that promote the inflammatory response5.

An anti-inflammatory gel can be applied directly to the skin over the painful, inflamed muscle or joint area, where it is then absorbed. This can provide pain relief for conditions such as torn ligaments or sprains; torn muscles or strains; sports injuries; inflammation of the fluid-filled sack around the joint (bursitis); inflammation of a tendon (tendonitis); muscle pain caused by an injury or infection (myalgia); bruising due to injury and even relief of joint pain and inflammation due to arthritis4.

Recommended for use as a short-term treatment for the symptomatic relief of painful inflammatory conditions, topical anti-inflammatory treatments should not be used for longer than 10 days uninterrupted treatment without consulting your doctor4.

Heat Rubs

When it comes to minor pain, joint stiffness and muscle soreness, a heat rub can provide relief by warming and soothing the affected area6,7. Often containing menthol or methyl salicylate, they work by causing the skin to feel cool and then warm, creating a temporary distraction from the pain point8. When using a heat rub, apply a thin layer to the affected area, rubbing it in gently and thoroughly. Heat rubs can be used 3 to 4 times a day8.

Hot or cold packs

Hot or cold packs, or a combination of the two, can provide relief for sore muscles and joints. Cold works by numbing sore areas and heat works by relaxing your muscles and dilating your blood vessels. This sends more oxygen and blood to the area. Much like a heat rub, a heat pack can also decrease the sensation of pain3.

In addition to these types of treatments, home remedies are often also recommended. This includes making use of the R.I.C.E method. This acronym stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation9.

New to the shelves at leading pharmacies is Norflex® Heat Rub, a topical treatment with methyl salicylate to reduce pain and stiffness6,7. Other products in this range include Norflex® Gel, a topical triple acting anti-inflammatory gel for relief of strains and sprains, available over the counter without a prescription4. The range also recently launched Norflex® Gel Forte containing a higher concentration of key ingredient Benzydamine Hydrochloride to provide extra strength targeted relief10.

Speak to your pharmacist about how to relieve sore muscles and join pain, and what the best topical treatment option might be depending on the severity of pain and discomfort.

DISCLAIMER: This editorial has been commissioned and brought to you by iNova Pharmaceuticals. Content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.

Name and business address of applicant: iNova Pharmaceuticals (Pty) Limited. Co. Reg. No.1952/001640/07, 15E Riley Road, Bedfordview. Tel. No. 011 087 0000. www.inovapharma.co.za.

For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional. Further information is available on request from iNova Pharmaceuticals.


    1. Sprains, Strains and Other Soft-Tissue Injuries (2020) at https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/sprains-strains-and-other-soft-tissue-injuries/ [online] June 2020 [cited November 2022]
    2. Mercy Health. Daily Activities That Can Cause Injury Over Time at https://blog.mercy.com/daily-activities-overuse-injury/ [online] 17 October 2018 [cited November 2022]
    3. Web MD. Topical Pain Relief: Creams, Gels and Rubs (2021) at https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/topical-pain-relievers [online] 30 August 2021 [cited November 2022]
    4. Difflam Gel [online] 30 August 2021 [cited November 2022]; Available from URL: http://www.myvmc.comdrugsdifflam-gel/.
    5. Derry S, Matthews PRL, Wiffen PJ, Moore RA. Salicylate-containing rubefacients for acute and chronic musculoskeletal pain in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 11. Art. No.: CD007403. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007403.pub3.
    6. Web MD. Muscle Rub with Menthol Cream at https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-164278/muscle-rub-with-menthol-topical/details [online] [cited November 2022]