The Best Over the Counter Medicine for Sore Muscles

Spilled tablets.
Pain medicine spilled out on a table. (Image: tadamichi/iStock/Getty Images)

Sore muscles occur with injury, overuse or when beginning a new intense physical activity. Sore muscles can be the first sign of positive improvement after exercise, but may also be a sign of serious muscle damage if the soreness is severe. In both cases, however, OTC, or over-the-counter medications, ice therapy and rest are generally all that is needed to treat sore muscles.

Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen is effective because it reduces the chemical signals in the brain that are related to pain that is associated with sore muscles. Acetaminophen is generally a safe OTC medication, but should not be taken if a patient has liver disease. Furthermore, a healthy patient should take no more than 1 gram per dose and should avoid taking more than 4 grams per day to avoid liver damage. A patient should seek emergency medical treatment if he experiences dark stools, stomach pain, jaundice or dark urine.

Naproxen Sodium

Naproxen sodium is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID, that reduces chemical signals in the body that are related to pain and inflammation associated with sore muscles. Taken as directed, naproxen sodium is safe and effective. However, a patient should be aware of possible side effects that include stomach pain, dark urine, clay-colored stools and heart problems. A patient experiencing any of these side effects should seek emergency medical treatment to avoid serious complications.

Capsaicin Cream

Capsaicin cream is a topical OTC medication that can be used to treat pain associated with sore muscles. Capsaicin, a derivative of chili peppers, reduces a chemical signal related to pain when applied topically to the skin over the sore muscle. A patient must be warned that capsaicin cream causes a burning sensation for 15 to 20 minutes after application. Once the burning sensation subsides, a patient should note an improvement in pain symptoms. Furthermore, capsaicin cream must be used for a few days to achieve the optimum effect. No side effects are associated to capsaicin cream, which makes this product a safe medicine to use for sore muscles.

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