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Pharmacy Care provides information about self-care, that is how to treat minor medical conditions with products available at the pharmacy. Find out how your pharmacist can help you to manage minor conditions yourself.
Muscle aches and pains
General muscular aches and pains are often caused by unaccustomed use or overuse of muscles. More severe muscle pain accompanied by swelling and restricted movement may mean that muscles, tendons or ligaments have been damaged, torn, sprained or strained (possibly in a sports or other accidental injury).
Before you treat, consider whether you have general aches or pains from overuse, or if it is something more serious, such as an injury. If you have injured yourself, follow the RICER approach immediately (see ‘Treatment Tips’).
See Your Pharmacist or Medical Professional
- if you have a serious loss of movement along with the ache or pain
- if you can’t put weight on the joint
- if the injured area looks deformed
- if the pain is severe, there is swelling or the area feels warm
- if your pain or discomfort has not improved after treatment
- if the pain is from a back injury or lower back pain that spreads to your legs
- if pain gets worse during the day, such as knee or hip pain
- if you have other symptoms, such as morning joint stiffness, fever or numbness
- if you have muscular pain and a medical condition or take certain medicines, such as those to lower your cholesterol level
- if the person is a child or elderly; they may be more sensitive to some medicines
- if you are pregnant or breastfeeding; certain medicines will not be suitable
- if your pain persists beyond seven days
If any of these apply, investigation of muscle aches and pains by your health professional is recommended, even if it confirms there is nothing seriously wrong.
- general muscle aches, stiffness or soreness caused by overuse may be relieved by anti-inflammatory gels or ‘heat rubs’
- for general muscle soreness and stiffness, gentle exercise, massage and medicine helps restore mobility
- avoid HARM: heat, alcohol, running/exercise or massage for the first 72 hours; they may limit healing and exacerbate the injury if undertaken too soon.
- check with a doctor or physiotherapist before starting heat treatments and physical activity, to avoid the risk of further injury
- if your back is the problem, in future make sure you adopt good posture and appropriate lifting techniques to prevent back ache
Treatment tips for sprains, strains and soft tissue injuries
- RICER therapy is very important in the first 48 to 72 hours after an injury, such as a sprain:
- R rest: no further exercise
- I ice: apply ice or a bag of frozen vegetables, wrapped in a towel to protect your skin, for 10 to 20 minutes every two hours
- C compress: wrap with a firm, elastic bandage, and loosen it if you feel tingling or numbness
- E elevate: keep the injured limb raised on a chair or cushion
- R refer: see a doctor or physiotherapist for a precise diagnosis and ongoing care; a full recovery is more likely with less scarring
- general muscle aches and pains can be relieved by a range of medicines
- it may be better to avoid certain medicines when you are first injured; check with your pharmacist
- take pain relievers regularly for the first few days, rather than waiting for the pain
Oral pain relief medicines (analgesics)
e.g. paracetamol, packets of 24 or fewer (Panadol range), aspirin (Aspro range, Disprin range); ibuprofen, packets of 24 or fewer (Advil Liquid Caps, Advil Tablets, Nurofen range, Panafen IB, Tri-profen)
e.g. paracetamol, ibuprofen, larger pack sizes; diclofenac (Voltaren Rapid 12.5), naproxen (Aleve, Naprogesic, Nurolasts)
e.g. diclofenac (Voltaren Rapid 25)
Paracetamol, aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) relieve pain. Aspirin and NSAIDs (which include ibuprofen, diclofenac and naproxen) also reduce inflammation (swelling). Paracetamol and NSAIDs can be used together as they work differently (they are usually given at different times; ask your pharmacist about dosing).
Paracetamol is a safe choice for most people but it is important not to take more than recommended. It is an ingredient in many cold and flu remedies so be careful not to double dose. The maximum daily dose of paracetamol for an adult is 4 g (4000 mg), and no more than 1 g (1000 mg) every four hours. It is important to dose children by their weight and to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on dosage.
Aspirin and NSAIDs are not suitable for everyone. Children under 12 years old must not take aspirin because it can cause Reye’s syndrome, a serious condition. It should also be avoided by adolescents under 16 years old who have a viral illness.
Check with your pharmacist before taking aspirin or NSAIDs if you:
- have a history of stomach problems, such as ulcers or indigestion
- have asthma; some people with asthma find their condition is made worse by these types of medicines
- have kidney problems or a heart condition
- take other medications
- have an allergy to aspirin or NSAIDs
- are pregnant or breastfeeding
- are elderly; you may be at more risk of side effects
- are dehydrated
Sometimes aspirin and NSAIDs can cause side effects. It is important to take these products with a glass of water and food to minimise heartburn. If you develop indigestion, or unusual or increased bleeding or bruising, stop taking them and talk to your pharmacist.
e.g. ibuprofen (Nurofen Gel), ketoprofen (Orudis Gel), diclofenac (Dencorub Anti-inflammatory Gel, Voltaren Emulgel), piroxicam (Feldene Gel)
- NSAID gels rubbed gently over the affected area may help relieve aches, sprains and strains
- gel medication can be absorbed into your bloodstream so it is important to check if NSAIDs are suitable for you (see above)
- NSAID gels help general aches, sprains and strains
- occasionally your skin can become irritated; stop use if this happens
- do not apply to open wounds, lips or near eyes, and wash hands after use
- if large amounts are used, or you are sensitive to NSAIDs, side effects may occur (see above)
- treatment beyond two weeks is not recommended; seek medical advice for long term use
- NSAIDs are not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women, or for children
Last Reviewed: 25 September 2009