Swipe to the left

How Topical Pain Relievers Help You Fight Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

By Debra Gordon, MS | December 27, 2017 Exercise
How Topical Pain Relievers Help You Fight Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

New research shows external pain relievers can help you curb post-workout pain.

If you’re active at all, you’ve probably experienced that second-day muscle soreness after a tough workout. But did you know that there’s a name for the feeling? The technical term is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS. Whether from working out or just increasing your level of activity, DOMS can get in the way of living your life. It might keep you away from the gym or even keep you from doing normal activities. But what can you do to relieve the (inevitable) DOMS pain?

If your first instinct is to use ice, you’re on the right track. Ice is a form of cryotherapy (cold therapy) that helps relieve muscle and joint pain. But ice can be its own type of pain—the bags leak, the ice can cause stiffness and the whole process of icing keeps you in one spot for at least 20 minutes at a time. Enter Biofreeze.

What Is Biofreeze and How Can It Help?

Biofreeze® Pain Reliever is a form of cryotherapy that doesn’t require an ice bag or a fancy cryotherapy machine. It’s a topical pain reliever that allows you to get all the benefits of icing without the drawbacks. But how’s that possible?

The active ingredient in Biofreeze is menthol, which works to relieve muscle and joint pain right at the source. You apply it (as a gel, a spray or a roll-on) to the skin where you’re experiencing pain, and Biofreeze goes to work.

While we know that Biofreeze is effective at relieving muscle and joint pain, researchers are always working to find out more about how exactly it relieves pain. Numerous studies find that topical pain relievers like Biofreeze reduce the pain, often in just 30 minutes. But why? How? After all, the gel doesn’t reach the muscle itself, just the skin surrounding it.

That’s the question researchers from Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, led by Performance Health Science Advisory Board member Duane C. Button, PhD, set out to answer. More specifically, they wanted to understand the brain’s role in the pain relief associated with DOMS. In other words, how do topical pain relievers interrupt pain signals from the stressed muscle to the brain?

Breaking Down the Science

To find out, researchers recruited 15 men and had them do several sets of intensive bicep curls. The goal? To make sure they experienced DOMS. Twenty-four hours after the exercise, the subjects returned to the lab, sore muscles and all. Dr. Button and his team then measured the electrical pain signals traveling from nerves in the biceps to the skin, spinal cord and brain. Then eight of the subjects rubbed Biofreeze over their sore areas; the others used a placebo gel that smelled and looked exactly the same.

The researchers then tested the signals again at 5, 15, 30 and 45 minutes after the application. The men also rated their level of pain each time.The result? The Biofreeze group had significantly less pain at 30 minutes after application than the placebo group.

The finding wasn’t surprising; we’ve known that Biofreeze works on DOMS. One study, in fact, found that Biofreeze not only reduced pain from DOMS within 60 minutes of application far better than placebo, but that pain levels remained significantly lower for the next five hours. What Dr. Button’s study did do, however, is to dive into the nitty gritty of how Biofreeze works to relieve DOMS pain.

How Biofreez Fights DOMS: The Gate Control Theory of Pain

Dr. Button suggests that Biofreeze works to relieve muscle and joint pain associated with DOMS through something called the “Gate Control Theory.”

The Gate Control Theory of pain relief proposes that by interrupting the electrical pain signals neurons send to the brain, the pain message is never received. That means that when an outside stimulus, like the menthol in Biofreeze, is applied to a muscle suffering from DOMS pain, it essentially gives the neurons something else to focus on, so the pain message is no longer relayed to your brain—resulting in less DOMS pain for you. Dr. Button’s study suggested that Biofreeze short-circuited the ability of the c-fibers (neurons) to send the final electrical signal transmission to the brain. Thus, the brain never perceived the pain, thus supporting the Gate Control Theory of pain relief.

What This Means for You

In the simplest terms, this means that research indicates you can relieve DOMS-related pain with a quick application of Biofreeze. And you don’t have to diligently sit with an ice bag balanced on your body while you wait to feel better.

Interested in trying out the research for yourself? Head to the gym and get in a good sweat session, then grab a tube of Biofreeze to help you recover!

Choose a Category