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Do Sports Creams Help Ease Aches and Pains?

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In pain? Got an ache? We find out if pain-relief creams really work.

Q. An old skiing injury is acting up. Will sports creams ease the ache?

A. They might make you feel warm and tingly, but most rubs won't take the pain away. A recent review of studies found that topical pain relievers containing salicylate, an ingredient related to aspirin and found in products such as Bengay, are no better than placebos as painkillers. Creams that have anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen may be more effective, but physical therapy is a better Rx for nagging aches, says Angela Smith, MD, former president of the American College of Sports Medicine in Indianapolis. "When pain resurfaces, it often means the injury never completely healed," Dr. Smith says. "Even old injuries frequently respond well to PT."

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, January 2010.

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