All of us over do it at one time or another. Weekend warrior in the yard or in the game. Training for a marathon or triathlon. Or just slept the wrong way and have a stiff neck. You are in pain and you want joint pain relief. Reluctant to pop another pill, you want natural pain relief. Your choice is between an over-the-counter joint cream or an ice pack. Which is more effective?
How sports creams work
The cool feelings from topical pain relievers, like IcyHot or BioFreeze, comes from the interaction of the menthol and the skin. Muscle cream is part of a class of treatment called counterirritants, which work by tricking the body into feeling sensations other than pain. Once applied to the skin, the product creates a series of chemical reactions that help temporarily relieve any pain in the area.
In a recent New York Times article, Ed Ryan, former director of sports medicine for the United States Olympic Committee commented that, “From a physiological standpoint, there’s very little benefit that occurs in the tissue where you’re applying a cream.” He went on to say that creams, “Don’t cause a change to occur that would result in any pain decrease or any physiological change that would hasten healing.”
The bottom line, although these creams may help to temporarily mask the pain sensations, topical creams and gels do not help the body to reduce inflammation or muscle spasms.
How an ice pack works
According to the Sports Injury Clinic applying a cold pack to an injury or inflamed muscle offers several benefits and effects, namely to reduce any internal bleeding and swelling. Swelling is caused by fluids concentrating around the area that is inflamed (damaged tissue) due to direct trauma. The cold pack helps to control the rate of inflammation. Top of most peoples mind is pain relief. Applying cold will numb the area, providing the necessary pain relief. As the cold continues to penetrate, the cold therapy acts to reduce muscle spasms and decrease the metabolic rate, reducing the oxygen requirements of the injured cells. These physiological changes may help to accelerate the healing process.
While icing is a great start, combining a cold pack with a compression wrap like FrozenPeaz provides improved skin contact and enables to the cooling benefits to penetrate deeper into the muscle tissue. The injured area reaches its lowest temperature faster and the tissue maintains its cool even after treatment ends.
So which is best?
While a muscle cream might help mask the pain if your are unable to ice, applying cold therapy with compression results in physiological effects that help the body not only with pain pain relief but also a recover faster.