Summer brings out weekend warriors in force. And although exercising outside benefits body and soul, injuries sometimes cloud this otherwise sunny scenario.

For most people with a strain, scrape, or muscle soreness, the first impulse is to reach for a pain-reducing drug. Although NSAIDs and other pain relievers offer short-term relief, you can do better: Several natural supplements ease injury-related inflammation and pain while accelerating healing.

For instance, when the Danish Olympic team tried giving essential fatty acids and low-dose antioxidants to elite athletes, they found the athletes healed and returned to training more quickly.

Taking similar supplements helped recreational athletes in another study published in the journal Physical Therapy in Sport. Research shows these nutrients can also help people who suffer from a broad range of aches and pains, including arthritis. Read on for more information on healing supplements, listed in order of which to try first.

1. Omega-3s 

Usually obtained from fish or algae, omega-3s act as precursors to prostaglandin E3, one of the body’s most potent anti-inflammatory compounds. Research shows the key omega-3s—eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—also fight inflammation and pain.

Dose: 600–2,000 mg of EPA and DHA combined

Try: Carlson Inflammation Balance

2. Gamma-linolenic acid

Although technically an omega-6 fatty acid, plant-derived gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) oil behaves more like an omega-3. It’s a precursor to prostaglandin E1, an anti-inflammatory compound made by the body. The Danish Olympic team combines GLA with omega-3s to dampen inflammation and promote healing. Some studies have found that GLA lessens rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Dose: 300–1,500 mg daily

Try: Nordic Naturals Nordic GLA

3. Curcumin

A turmeric-root extract, curcumin blocks several of the body’s inflammation-promoting compounds, including prostaglandin E2 and the cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) enzyme.

Dose: 500–2,000 mg daily

Try: Europharma Terry Naturally CuraMed

4. Herbs

Ginger and rosemary are superb natural anti-inflammatory herbs. Because herbs usually work by different biochemical pathways, taking a combination can be more effective.

Dose: Follow label directions, but you can usually use lower doses when combining two or more herbs.

Try: New Chapter Zyflamend, which combines several anti-inflammatory herbs.

5. Vitamin C

This vitamin is essential to make collagen, a protein found in skin, muscle, cartilage, and bone—the tissues that tend to get damaged when exercising. Extra vitamin C encourages healing.

Dose: 1,000 mg one to three times daily

Try: American Health Ester-C

6. Vitamin D

Just because the sun is out doesn’t mean your body is making enough vitamin D, especially if you use sunscreen or cover up with clothes when in the sun. Low vitamin D levels are strongly associated with chronic pain, especially back and nerve pain. 

Dose: 2,000 mg daily

Try: Carlson Super Daily Vitamin D3 drops

7. Pycnogenol

This patented extract of French maritime pine bark contains 40 antioxidants and anti-inflammatory constituents, mostly polyphenols and flavonoids. One study found that it reduced pain and stiffness in people with osteoarthritis. Pycnogenol blocks the activity of several inflammation-promoting substances, including the COX-2 enzyme.

Dose: At least 50 mg three times daily

Try: Solgar Pycnogenol

8. Arnica

This venerable analgesic herb promotes healing. In an herbal or homeopathic topic ointment,Arnica montana can also ease sore muscles. Other herbs, such as comfrey, aloe, and St. John’s wort, battle inflammation and pain.

Dose: Follow package directions; apply to sore area, but not to open wounds.

Try: Boiron Arnicare, Peaceful Mountain rescue gels; both dry quickly without leaving an oily or sticky residue.