Try out these self-help steps

Whether you’ve stubbed a toe (ouch!) or strained a muscle, pain can often put a dampener on your day. It can be short-lived or it can stick around for a long time. From tablets to topical treatments, we’ve listed a few ways you can help relieve it – take a look!

We all need a little support sometimes – the same goes for our joints! Pulls, strains and sprains can often stop you from being active and feeling on tip-top form. Joint supports for knees, wrists and ankles can help reduce pressure and swelling around an injured area. They can also help your injured joint recover by stabilising it without restricting movement – clever stuff! If you're not sure which type of support is best for you, our pharmacists can help you decide. Don’t forget, icing your injury and getting some rest should also be part of treating your injury in the first couple of days. Taking pain killers is an option, too.

From gels and patches to sprays and foams – topical anti-inflammatory pain killers come in all shapes and sizes. They contain medicine like ibuprofen and are ideal for treating muscle ache or joint pain because you can apply them directly to the affected area – handy! They absorb into your skin and help relieve pain and reduce swelling. Often, GPs prescribe topical treatments as an alternative to oral painkillers as they can have fewer side effects.

It’s super important to remember topical anti-inflammatories should never be applied to open wounds or damaged skin. Always read the instructions and wash your hands before and after applying your treatment.

Hot therapy and cold therapy are easy and effective ways to help reduce pain. They can help minimise your recovery time from injuries like muscle strain or a stubbed toe. So, how do they work? Let’s take a closer look.

Hot therapy – often called heat therapy – works by improving blood flow to your injury and is most commonly used to treat things like sore muscles or stiffness. Psst! If your injury is new, hot therapy isn't for you. Increasing the temperature around your injured area can help soothe and relieve feelings of discomfort. If you’re using heat therapy, always apply things like heat patches and hot water bottles safely. Remember to only keep them on the injured area for about 10-15 minutes. 

Cryotherapy (the fancy term for cold therapy) decreases the blood flow to an injury, reducing the swelling that can cause pain. It’s great for mild sprains and strains or sports injuries. If you have this type of injury, it’s best to stick to cold therapy for the first couple of days. Things in your freezer like a bag of frozen vegetables or ice cubes wrapped in a tea towel are great methods of cold therapy – how cool! (See what we did there?). Just like heat therapy, remember to use cold therapy on your injury for about 10-15 minutes or when the ice starts to melt.

Over-the-counter medicines can be a quick and easy way to help relieve your pain, but it’s important to understand which is right for you.

Most non-nerve pain like headaches can be treated with paracetamol tablets.* One or two 500mg tablets up to four times a day is a recommended dose for adults, and you should never take more than eight tablets in one 24-hour period. If your pain lasts for more than three days, speak to your GP. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen* work better on inflammatory pain like toothache, period pain, and strains and sprains. The usual dose for adults is two 200mg tablets three times a day. They shouldn’t be used for long periods unless you’ve cleared it with your GP.

If pain relief medicines like paracetamol and ibuprofen haven’t eased your pain, co-codamol could treat it. It’s a mixture of paracetamol and codeine and you can buy the lowest strength co-codamol over-the-counter. Higher strengths are only available on prescription from your GP. You shouldn’t take co-codamol continuously for more than three days without consulting your doctor first. Always follow the dosage instructions, and don’t take more than eight tablets in one 24-hour period.

If you're not sure which painkiller is suitable for you or if you have any questions, speak to your pharmacist or GP – they’ll be able to help you.

A TENS machine (or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation machine if we’re being technical), helps to temporarily relieve minor aches and pains when used alongside painkillers. It’s a small, battery-operated machine that attaches to your body with sticky pads. It works by transmitting electrical pulses to help block pain messages to your brain and you can use it with things like period pains and arthritis.

A TENS machine isn’t suitable for all types of pain. If you have a pacemaker or a metal implant in your body, if you’re pregnant or have a heart condition or epilepsy, you shouldn’t use a TENS machine without speaking to your GP first. It’s super important to take things slowly when using one – make sure you find the settings most comfortable for your pain so you don’t make it worse. Use it for about 15-20 minutes a time, several times a day and always read the instructions.

If you experience discomfort in your feet, orthotic foot care – including nifty things like insoles and shoe inserts – can help relieve your pain. Made of foam or gel, insoles fit inside your shoes and help cushion, reduce pressure and support specific areas of your foot or your whole foot when wearing. They come in different shapes and sizes – just like feet. It's a good idea to make sure they fit comfortably in your shoes. Don’t worry if they feel a bit odd the first time you use them – your feet will need time to adjust.

If your foot pain doesn’t get any better, you may need orthotics that are custom-made for you. Speak to your GP or podiatrist (a health professional who can help with common foot problems), as they’ll be able to advise you on the next steps.

Gentle exercise

Get up and go! If you’re feeling a bit under the weather because of a strain or sprain, resting it can often be tempting – who doesn’t want a day in bed, right? But in reality, resting your injury for a long time may not do you a lot of good. Gently moving your body can help keep your muscles and joints working as they should, plus it can do wonders for your mental health, too! Exercise shouldn’t be strenuous – things like daily stretches or a quick potter around the garden will do just the job. Psst! Before you don your sportswear and break out the yoga mat, have a chat with your GP or a physiotherapist about what kind of exercises are OK for you. They’ll help you choose something that won’t put your injury under too much strain.

And there you have it, seven ways to help relieve pain. Remember, if you’re experiencing lots of pain and you’re worried about it, chat to your GP.

*Always read the label.