Pain Meds Don't Benefit Muscle Soreness

Many people take pain medication to reduce muscle soreness after an intense workout but a new study suggests that practice could actually prolong the pain.

Researchers tested the effects of celecoxib and ketoprofen on muscle soreness. After performing heavy physical activity, participants took one of the medications or a placebo drug for a week after the workout. When compared to the placebo drug, celecoxib only slightly reduced pain. Ketoprofen did not reduce muscle soreness and extended pain by an average of 17 hours. Given the either modest or negative effects of the medications, the authors concluded that their research cannot support using NSAIDs for relieving muscle soreness after exercise.

These findings add to previous research raising concerns about NSAID use for exercise-induced muscle pain. A 2005 study found that ibuprofen elevated cytokine levels in marathon runners.

Heavy exercise creates tiny tears in the muscle fibers. This triggers an immune response that involves inflammation and soreness. Pain medications may disrupt the natural recovery process by suppressing the inflammatory reactions essential for healing.

Another recent study suggests that massage therapy could be a more viable option for muscles soreness. In the study, men received a massage after biking vigorously for an hour. Muscle biopsies revealed that massage reduced cytokine levels and stimulated the mitochondria that assist in cell regeneration. This suggests that massage can relieve muscle soreness while supporting the body’s natural healing process.


Crane JD, et al. Massage therapy attenuates inflammatory signaling after exercise-induced muscle damage. Science Translation Medicine 2012; 4 (19): doi 10.1126/scitranslmed.3002882.

Neiman DC, et al. Muscle damage is linked to cytokine changes following a 160-km race. Brain Behavior, and Immunity 2005; 19(5): 398-403.

Rother M, et al. “Is the inflammatory reaction an essential part of recovery after muscle injury?” EULAR 2012; Abstract FRI0457.