Strengthen Muscle and Reduce Pain

Increasing muscle mass in your biggest muscle group, your quadriceps, can help you live up to almost 50% longer.

That’s the finding of a recent study. It found that older adults who strengthened this group of muscles twice a week lived 46% longer than those who didn’t.

The study also reported a 41% lower risk of death from heart disease and a 19% lower risk of death from cancer. This backs up an earlier Harvard study that found people with well-developed thigh muscles have a lower risk of heart disease and premature death than people with thin thighs.1

If you’re a regular reader, I recommend doing modified Hindu squats to boost power to this major muscle group. These squats are an important part of my PACE exercise program.

But sometimes, working out leaves you sore. Especially when you’re using muscles, you haven’t used in a while. Your first instinct might be to reach for an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen.

Don’t. You’ll end up undoing all your hard work.

You see, a recent study from researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that taking ibuprofen prevents muscle growth after your workout.2

In the study, two groups of volunteers worked out their thigh muscles two to three times a week. One group was given a high dose of ibuprofen after their workout to relieve soreness.

After eight weeks, the Swedish researchers measured both groups’ muscle volume, strength, and growth. They found that the group that did not take an anti-inflammatory had muscle volume that was two times as large as the group that took the ibuprofen.

As it turns out, the drugs interfere with the healing process of your muscles. And it’s this healing process that increases the size of your muscle. Let me explain…

Whenever you work out, you cause damage

to your muscles by creating microscopic tears in muscle fibers. After your workout is over, your body begins to heal. It sends amino acids rushing in to repair these micro-tears. With each repair, the fibers get larger and thicker. This process, called hypertrophy, is how your muscles grow.

And this rip and repair process is a good thing. But it can cause soreness.

Taking an NSAID like Motrin, Advil, and Aleve leads to even more problems than a lack of muscle growth. These drugs have dangerous side effects. Every year, thousands of Americans die from acute upper gastrointestinal bleeding triggered by NSAIDs.3

NSAIDs also increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, liver damage, and kidney damage. They even impair your ability to empathize.

When I have pain from old injuries, I apply a yellow herb known as arnica or Wolf’s Bane. Arnica is an anti-inflammatory that can relieve chronic pain in muscles and joints. It contains a healing compound called thymol. This increases vasodilation or the widening of your blood vessels. More blood flow helps to heal injured muscles. A 2021 study published in the journal Medicines (Basel) found that arnica is as effective as standard medications like ibuprofen at treating pain, but without the side effects.4

Another study looked at 204 people with osteoarthritis in their hands. It found that people who used arnica gel experienced just as much relief as the group that took ibuprofen — but without the side effects.5 In another study, 79 people with arthritis in their knees used arnica gel. They felt less pain and stiffness and had a better range of motion.6

Two more ways you can kill the pain, keep the muscle

    1. Grab some after-exercise pineapple juice. Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, which activates your body’s ability to fight pain and reduce swelling. In fact, studies show bromelain is just as effective as Big Pharma’s NSAID drugs for relieving pain – without any side effects.7 Another study showed that bromelain was effective at easing an acute injury’s pain, tenderness, and swelling.8 Most of the bromelain comes from a pineapple’s stem. I recommend removing the tough outer skin, then cut the whole fruit, stem included, into small chunks. Puree in a juicer and enjoy.
    2. Take the original aspirin. White willow bark contains salicin, the same compound found in aspirin. Hippocrates had his patients chew on white willow bark to reduce inflammation. Studies show it may be as effective as taking conventional anti-inflammatory medications to relieve knee pain and musculoskeletal pain.9 I recommend 240 mg per day.

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD

Al Sears, MD, CNS



1. Harvard Men’s Health Watch. “Big Thighs May Be Wise.” Harvard Health Publications. January 2012.
2. Lilja M et al. “High-doses of anti-inflammatory drugs compromise muscle strength and hypertrophic adaptations to resistance training in young adults.” Acta Physiologica, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/apha.12948.
3. Ask the Expert: Do NSAIDs Cause More Deaths Than Opioids? 2013. Retrieved from Practical Pain Management website.
4. Smith A, et al. “Clinical trials, potential mechanisms, and adverse effects of arnica as an adjunct medication for pain management.” Medicines (Basel). 2021 Oct 9;8(10):58.
5. Widrig R, et al. “Choosing between NSAID and arnica for topical treatment of hand osteoarthritis in a randomized, double-blind study.” Rheumatol Int. 2007;27(6):585-9.
6. Knuesel O, et al. “Arnica montana gel in osteoarthritis of the knee: an open, multicenter clinical trial.” Adv Ther. 2002;19(5):209-18.
7. Zengion A. “Herbal and nutritional supplements for painful conditions.” Pain Procedures in Clinical Practice. Elsevier Inc. 2011. 619-638.
8. Brien S, et al. “Bromelain as a treatment for osteoarthritis: A review of clinical studies.” Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2004;1(3):251-257.
9. Jahromi B, et al. “Herbal medicine for pain management: efficacy and drug interactions.” Pharmaceutics. 2021;13(2):251.