Pain relief – local and effective for muscle aches

ICE!!!! You know, those gels and creams with the menthol. Ice heat. Tiger balm. Soooo good on your back.

I asked my massage therapist about it, and then did a little research. Fascinating stuff, because the action of these gels is physical, and localized (avoiding the fuzziness and other side effects of pain meds.) Here’s how they work:

Phase One (hypothermic) – various ingredients evaporate and your skin cools up to 5 degrees. Your body responds by contracting blood vessels in the area (vasoconstriction) This reducing swelling, thus reducing any pain caused by that particular swelling. Cooling = analgesic effect. Not unlike when you use actual ice or an ice pack.

Phase Two (isothermic) – Your body defends itself against the cold. It stabilizes the temperature as the blood vessels dilate (vasodilation). More blood is forced into the cooled muscles.

Phase Three (hyperthermic) – when you get maximum dilation of the blood vessels the blood circulation increases by up to 300%. As your metabolism goes up, muscle tension decreases.

This is, of course, only useful for certain types of pain – stuff that is relatively close to the surface, and is the result of inflammation and localized muscle tension. If the muscle tension goes too deep or too widespread, then icy heat gels have limited effect. But that can be enough pain relief to tip you into sleep without resorting to medication, so that’s a good thing.

If the problem is a strained muscle, sore back, or stiff neck, this might be a good way to get some temporary relief while you heal. I like these gels because they don’t mess with my chemistry. The positive effect comes from my bodies own normal, natural functions.

The drawback, of course, is the effect on your skin. All that evaporating and the irritation some of the ingredients can cause means you have to use this method of pain relief judiciously.

I use it on my foot sometimes when my RSD/CRPS kicks up. I don’t think the cooling phase does anything much, since there often isn’t any physical inflammation present, but the increased circulation can help relieve the neuropathic pain.

Give it a try!

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Published in: on April 18, 2010 at 10:33 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I use Absorine Jr. on my neck and sometimes it helps with the migraine. It works well on my leg cramps, too.

    • That makes sense, since migraines can sometimes be caused by muscle stiffness in the neck. (My daughter is being treated by a chiropractor and massage therapist for just such headaches.) Loosen the muscles and you relive the migraine. I’m glad you found something that works. Those headaches are debilitating.

  2. Interesting find! Tiger balms and efficascent oils are staples on my first aid cabinet.

    • I’ve always wondered how they work, so I did a little research. So now I know why my Tiger Balm is sooooo good for some things and useless for others!

      I really like the idea of doing as much pain relief as possible in mechanical ways – by changing the blood flow or putting the joint in a position that eases up the pressure or meditation – rather than bombarding my entire body with chemicals that have all kind of sometimes unforeseen side effects.


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