Effects of ibuprofen topical gel on muscle soreness

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Mar;42(3):614-21. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181b95db2.


Purpose: Muscle soreness is a common symptom after novel exercise and may influence exercise adherence. This study examined the effect of an ibuprofen topical gel and the effect of age and sex on muscle soreness after a gym exercise.

Methods: One hundred and six participants completed six sets of 10 repetitions of the elbow and knee flexor muscles. Thirty-six hours after exercise, participants were randomized to apply an ibuprofen topical gel or placebo treatment to the affected muscle groups. Soreness evaluations were taken each hour for the first 6 h (36-42 h), then at 48, 60, 66, 72, 84, 90, 96, and 108 h after exercise. Subjects then returned to the laboratory after 3 wk and repeated the same study protocol with the opposite arm/leg and treatment.

Results: We found no significant differences in soreness between the active ibuprofen gel and the placebo treatment and no difference in effectiveness between men and women or between older and younger subjects. For the placebo groups, there was no sex differences in muscle soreness; however, when the data were analyzed by dividing participants into young (18-29 yr) and old (40-65 yr) cohort, the old cohort reported significantly less soreness in response to the elbow flexion exercise than the young cohort (P < 0.01).

Conclusion: The results of this study suggest that the topical application of ibuprofen is not an effective treatment for muscle soreness after an unaccustomed gym exercise. Furthermore, our results show that there is no sex difference in the soreness response and that older subjects have less soreness in response to a similar exercise stimulus as young subjects.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Adult
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / administration & dosage*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / pharmacology*
  • Elbow
  • Female
  • Gels
  • Humans
  • Ibuprofen / administration & dosage*
  • Ibuprofen / pharmacology*
  • Knee
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle, Skeletal / injuries
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Resistance Training
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United Kingdom
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Gels
  • Ibuprofen