- Analgesic Creams, Rubs, and Sprays
- How pain relief cream and pain relief gel works
- Which is the best pain relief cream for sore muscles and joints?
- Arnica cream and gel for pain relief
- Cannabidiol CBD salve and ointment for pain relief
- Glucosamine pain relief cream and gel
- Chondroitin pain relief cream
- Celadrin pain relief cream
- MSM pain relief cream
- Comfrey pain relief ointment
- Capsicum pain relief cream
- Green-lipped mussel pain relief gel
- Essential oils for pain relief
- Voltarol pain gel
- 4. Miracle Rub 32 OZ – Pain Relieving Cream
- 5. Capzasin-HP – Best Rated Arthritis Cream
- In Conclusion
- How Do Pain Creams Work?
- Similar…but different
- Products Similar to Bio Freeze
- ALCis Daily Pain Relief Cream
- Nature’s Chemist
- Sombra Pain Gel
- Other Products
- 1. BioFreeze
- 2. Tiger Balm
- 3. Icy Hot
- 4. Sore No More
- 5. Rub On Relief
- 6. CryoDerm
- 7. doTERRA Deep Blue Rub
- 8. Sombra Warm Therapy
- 9. Topricin
- 10. Muscle Relief Synergy Blend Essential Oil
- Additional Suggestions
- 1. Sombra Natural Pain Relieving Gel
- 2. Bengay Pain Relief Cream
- 3. Biofreeze Pain Relief Gel
- 4. Art of Sport Recovery Cream
- 5. Venu Anti Cellulite & Relaxant Cream
- 6. Cramp 911 Muscle Relaxing Lotion
- 7. Hemp Pain Relief Roll-On Gel
- Best Topical Pain Relief Products
Analgesic Creams, Rubs, and Sprays
Topical painkillers, or analgesics, are sprayed on, rubbed in or applied as patches onto the skin over painful muscles or joints. Although are all designed to relieve pain, different products use different ingredients. Here are the most common ingredients found in products available without a prescription.
- Counterirritants. Ingredients such as menthol, methylsalicylate (oil of evergreen), and camphor are called counterirritants because they create a burning or cooling sensation that distracts your mind from the pain.
- Salicylates. These same ingredients that give aspirin its pain-relieving quality are found in some creams. When absorbed into the skin, they may help with pain, particularly in joints close to the skin, such as the fingers, knees, and elbows.
- Capsaicin. The main ingredient of hot chili peppers, capsaicin is also one of the most effective ingredients for topical pain relief.It can be helpful for joint pain and for diabetic nerve pain. When first applied, capsaicin creams cause a warm tingling or burning sensation. This gets better over time. You may need to apply these creams for a few days up to a couple of weeks before you notice relief from pain.
Here’s what you need to know to get the greatest effects and minimize the risks of these products:
- Read the package insert and follow directions carefully. If there is an insert, save it to refer to later.
- Never apply them to wounds or damaged skin.
- Do not use them along with a heating pad, because it could cause burns.
- Do not use under a tight bandage.
- Wash your hands well after using them or wear gloves. Avoid touching your eyes and genitals with the product on your hands.
- If you are allergic to aspirin or are taking blood thinners, check with your doctor before using topical medications that contain salicylates.
How pain relief cream and pain relief gel works
Last updated by Dr Sarah Brewer on August 7, 2019
As a doctor I’ve tried, recommended and prescribed many pain-relieving creams and gels to treat painful joints, backache, sore muscles, strained tendons and sprained ligaments. Medical guidelines even recommend that doctors prescribe topical creams and gels to treat mild to moderate joint pain. The best pain relief creams and gels are often just as effective as oral painkillers, but with much less risk of side effects. When I experience muscle or joint pain, I prefer to use a pain relief cream myself.
Quick links: These are the best pain relief creams and gels that I recommend on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
Pain relief cream and pain relief gel work in several ways to reduce discomfort. You were probably told as a child to ‘rub it better’ when you hurt yourself as this simple action quickly reduces the discomfort of knocks and sprains by flooding the brain with sensory messages from this area.
The sensation of rubbing literally helps to drown out any pain messages coming from that area. In the same way, the physical action of massaging in a cream or gel stimulate touch receptors and other nerve endings which send signals to the brain. This overwhelms messages from pain receptors so their signals are less likely to get through.
Massaging in a pain cream also warms the underlying area, and increases blood flow so the active ingredients can sink into the skin more readily, getting to work to relieve your pain. Massaging in a cream also increases blood flow, bringing in natural healing factors and flushing away the inflammatory chemicals that lead to pain.
Finally, the active ingredients within a pain relief cream interact with local nerve endings to damp down inflammation, reduce pain and swelling and ease stiffness. All these different actions make topical, rub-in creams and gels highly effective for treating painful joints, sore muscles and sport injuries. Here, I’ve reviewed what I believe are the best pain relief creams, sore muscle creams and pain relief gels.
Which is the best pain relief cream for sore muscles and joints?
Different creams and gels combine different pain-relieving ingredients for a greater, synergistic effect. The most effective natural ingredients are arnica, cannabidiol CBD oil, glucosamine, chondroitin, celadrin, comfrey root, capsicum, MSM and Green-lipped mussel extracts. The most effective pharmaceutical pain relief gel are those containing diclofenac, which is a stronger version of ibuprofen.
If you’re looking for the best pain relief cream for back pain, then Penetrex is the one with the highest number of 5* reviews in the US, which you can read here.
In the UK, one of the best pain relief creams is Hemp Pain Relief Cream while the most popular gels are Hemp Active Gel or the more pharmaceutical Voltarol Back and Muscle Pain Relief gel (see diclofenac review further down).
Arnica cream and gel for pain relief
Arnica montana is a flowering mountain herb with a long history of traditional use in pain relief. Arnica extracts contain numerous pain reliefing ingredients, including sesquiterpene lactones, flavonoids which reduce inflammation, swelling and pain, plus thymol which fights infection. Arnica cream, gel and ointment is used to ease muscle pain and spasm, insect bites, superficial burns – including sunburn – sprains and painful joints caused by arthritis or other rheumatic disorders. Herbal arnica products contain measurable levels of active ingredients, while homeopathic arnica products contain lower levels that work in a different way. Research shows that arnica products are as effective at relieving painful joints as ibuprofen gel when applied two to four times a day.
A study involving 172 people with osteoarthritis of the knee compared the use of a arnica gel with a prescribed, nonsteroidal anti-iflammatory gel (the NSAID piroxicam) with 1g of gel applied three times a day for 4 weeks. The results showed a pain reduction of 16.5 in the arnica gel group versus only 8.1 in the NSAID gel group and the researchers concluded that the Arnica gel was at least as effective and as well tolerated as the NSAID gel. A similar trial involving over 200 people with osteoarthritis of the hands showed that arnica gel was just as effective as an NSAID (ibuprofen) gel in reducing pain and improving hand function.
Cannabidiol CBD salve and ointment for pain relief
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is extracted from non-marijuana strains of industrial hemp plants. CBD oil is one of the most popular supplements for pain when taken orally, and CBD creams, salves and ointments are equally effective for pain relief when applied directly to painful muscles and joints. CBD is absorbed through the skin to interact with cannabinoid receptors (CB2) and suppress inflammation, relieve local pain and reduce itching, irritation and soreness. You can use a CBD salve or ointment at the same time as taking CBD oil capsules which reduce pain perception within the brain, aid relaxation and sleep as well as reducing discomfort and fatigue.
The CBD salves and ointments I like best only contain natural ingredients with no synthetic fragrances or artificial preservatives.
Carun Active Hemp Ointment is an infusion of cannabidiol CBD in petroleum jelly, hemp seed oil and olive oil, and is scented with a blend of natural lemon, peppermint and lavender essential oils. This ointment contains CBD at a strength of 3% (a 100ml pot contains 300mg CBD) and has a soft, melting texture at room temperature. Carun Active Hemp Ointment is available from Amazon.co.uk. A wide range of CBD ointments and creams are also available on Amazon.com some of which combine CBD with Arnica for additional healing benefits.
The strongest CBD cream is Recover Inflammation Formula which, although not cheap, has a reputation for relieving pain quickly.
Glucosamine pain relief cream and gel
The glucosamine found in topical creams and gels is different to the glucosamine found in oral tablets. This form, n-acetyl glucosamine, is small enough to sink into skin and penetrate underlying tissues to reduce pain. Glucosamine provides building blocks for the production of synovial fluid, making it thicker and more cushioning.
Synovial fluid is a thick, slippery substance with a consistency similar to egg white. It acts like an oil and fills small cavities within the joint cartilage, providing oxygen and nutrients when the joint is resting. Synovial fluid also pushes the bones apart so they don’t rub together to cause pain. Glucosamine also provides building blocks for making new cartilage, and repairing damaged areas. Glucosamine is also known to damp down inflammation and act as a biological signal to stimulate tissue repair.
Topical glucosamine cream and gel can significantly reduce the pain of knee osteoarthritis within 4 weeks. One study involving a glucosamine cream found that 100% of those with arthritis of the shoulder gained benefit. Of those with arthritis of the ankle, wrist or elbow, glucosamine cream reduced pain in 75% of people, and it worked in 58% of those with knee osteoarthritis.
If you prefer a cream, I recommend Flexable Glucosamine Cream which incldes chondroitin and MSM. If you prefer a gel, I recommend Optima Glucosamine Joint Complex Gel or Healthspan Glucosamine & Magnesium Gel which includes additional magnesium to ease both sore joints and sore muscles. (Disclaimer: I act as a medical consultant to Healthspan).
Chondroitin pain relief cream
Chondroitin sulphate is produced naturally in the body to promote the formation of healthy cartilage, tendons and ligaments, and it is also an important component of joint synovial fluid. As you get older, your joint cells secrete less and less chondroitin and this has been linked with reduced cartilage quality and the start of degenerative changes.
Chondroitin sulphate chains bind to hyaluronic acid to form ‘springy’ molecules that increase the strength and elasticity of cartilage, making it more resilient. Chondroitin also acts as a signal to inhibit the enzymes responsible for breaking down cartilage, and to increase the production of collagen. Chondroitin is therefore an ideal complement to glucosamine and the two are often combined in joint and muscle pain relief creams.
A study involving 63 people with osteoarthritis found that applying a knee pain cream containing both glucosamine and chondroitin produced greater pain reduction than a placebo cream. After 4 weeks, the active glucosamine and chondroitin cream was 20% more effective, and after 8 weeks, it was 80% more effective than the placebo cream.
Celadrin pain relief cream
Celadrin is a blend of waxy, cetylated fatty acids (CFAs) that are laid down in cell membranes to improve their flexibility and resilience. It also has an anti-inflammatory, pain-killing action.
Cetylated fatty acids are unusual in that they only occur in two places in nature – in sperm whale oil and in a strain of mice renowned for their immunity against arthritis. The celadrin in inflammation cream for muscle and joint pain is derived from monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, however.
Research shows that applying celadrin cetylated fatty acid cream with menthol to knees can reduce arthritis pain and improve the range of movement. Applying celadrin cream also makes it easier to climb up and down stairs. Celadrin cream cetylated fatty acids is also effective as a muscle pain relief cream to treat pain associated with trigger points in the neck.
Celadrin cream works really well when you rub it all the way around a painful joint, such as the knee, rather than just on the front or back of the joint. A good way to prove to yourself that it is working is to apply it to one joint (eg left knee) and not the other (eg right knee) three times a day for 10 days and you will notice a difference.
Many patients have told me they find celadrin cream effective for rapid relief of painful joints. It appears to work best when you apply it all around the joint – for example in a continuous band around the front, sides and back of a knee. One patient, who had two arthritic knees, told me he performed a personal experiment in which he applied celadrin cream around one knee but not the other. He was amazed at the difference in the treated knee which, within hours, became less painful and more mobile. Needless to say, he soon started applying it to both knees!
See the best celadrin containing creams at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
MSM pain relief cream
MSM (methyl-sulfonyl-methane) is a naturally rich source of sulphur which is a vital constituent of connective tissues and structural proteins. It is essential for the repair of muscles, joints and ligaments and has a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action.
With increasing age, skin and joint tissues tend to lose its elasticity due to the formation of cross-linkages within collagen. MSM may help to maintain suppleness of tissues by blocking the formation of these abnormal cross-linkages. MSM is an effective sore muscle cream and is often combined with glucosamine and chondroitin.
See the best MSM containing creams at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
Comfrey pain relief ointment
Comfrey root has a long history of traditional use to heal wounds and fractures when applied as a poultice, and was commonly known as ‘knit bone’. Modern research shows that comfrey contains two main active ingredients: allantoin which promotes tissue regeneration, and rosmarinic acid which damps down inflammation and reduces pain. Comfrey root cream is a popular and effective treatment for joint pain, sprains and strains.
A study involving 120 people with acute upper or lower back pain showed that rubbing in comfrey cream, three times a day for 4 to 6 days, reduced pain intensity by 95%, compared with just 38% reduction for inactive ‘placebo’ cream. Comfrey works quickly, providing good pain relief within an hour of application. In fact, researchers have found that comfrey cream is more effective than a prescribed, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory treatment (diclofenac gel) for treating ankle sprains.
Comfrey Ointment remains a popular treatment for a variety of muscle, joint and back aches and pains, because it works. Many original brands, developed by traditional medical herbalists are still going strong.
Capsicum pain relief cream
Capsicum is an extract from the chilli or cayenne pepper which reduces pain by continuously stimulating nerve endings in the skin at a very low-level. This depletes nerve endings of neurotransmitter chemicals so they become less sensitive and pass on fewer pain messages to the brain. Those messages that are passed on tend to get screened out as they brain shuts off distracting, low-level irritation. Ingredients that do this are known as ‘counterirritants’. These effects also reduce sensation from underlying painful joints. See the best capsicum containing rubs at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. Warning! These are HOT to use, but really relieve muscle and joint pain. Wash your hands thoroughly after use and do them rub your eyes by mistake during use.
Green-lipped mussel pain relief gel
Green-lipped mussel extracts were first investigated as a pain-relieving ingredient when it was noticed that Maori living in coastal regions suffered less arthritis symptoms than those living inland. Those who regularly consumed these delicious, green-lipped mussels tended to remain free of joint problems.
Freeze-dried extracts of raw New Zealand green-lipped mussels are now known to contain unique omega-3 fatty acids which damp down inflammation in a similar way to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce joint pain and swelling. The original and best green-lipped mussel pain relief product is Pernaton Gel.
Essential oils for pain relief
Menthol, Levomenthol, Eucalyptus, Camphor and Oil of Wintergreen are often added to topical joint treatments. These essential oils are absorbed into the skin and stimulate skin receptors to produce either a warm sensation or a cooling sensation as they numb the pain. They work by overwhelming nerve endings with these sensations so pain messages do not get passed on. This is known as a counter-irritant effect. Wintergreen is also a rich source of methyl salicylate, a natural anti-inflammatory painkiller related to aspirin. These essential oil creams and gels tend to have names such as Deep Heat or Deep Freeze to describe how they feel during use.
Voltarol pain gel
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) are such effective pain killers that ibuprofen gel was originally only available on prescription. They are now widely available for self purchase and much better for your health than taking the same non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers by mouth. NSAID pain relieving gels do not cause the same level of side effects as the oral versions, such as indigestion and heartburn. You do need to follow the in-pack instructions, however, and take care not to apply too much. In some cases, overuse of ibuprofen gel can increase your blood pressure.
I’m often asked which is the strongest ibuprofen gel. If you’re looking for the best muscle pain relief, however, I recommend diclofenac gel rather than ibuprofen gel. Research shows that diclofenac gel (Voltarol) is stronger and more effective than even a strong ibuprofen gel. If you still prefer to use an ibuprofen gel, however, you can find them on Boots.com.
Topical diclofenac gel (Voltarol) is highly effective for treating muscle and joint aches and pains. In fact, a direct comparison of topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory diclofenac gel with an oral equivalent did not show any difference in their ability to reduce pain and stiffness. Data from 34 studies, involving over 7,600 people, suggests that the topical NSAID, diclofenac, is the most effective form of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkiller for applying to the skin to treat muscle and joint pain.
Diclofenac is found in Voltarol Pain-eze Emulgel and Voltarol Back and Muscle Pain Relief Gel.
Tips for using a muscle pain relief cream or pain relief gel
Using a rub-in pain relief cream or gel can reduce the need for oral pain medication, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen tablets.
Don’t apply topical pain relief creams or gels to broken skin or they may sting like fury.
If you have hand eczema, cuts or other hand problems, wear a latex glove when applying your pain relief muscle or joint cream or gel or ask a close friend or relative to apply it for you.
For best results, apply a topical joint cream or gel after a warm bath or shower, or after exercise when you are still glowing, as this helps the treatment sink in more quickly.
Allergic reactions are uncommon, but on first use only apply a small amount to a clean, healthy area of skin and gently rub in until absorbed. Wait a while to test how you respond to the ingredients before using more. If skin redness, irritation or itching occurs, wash off and seek medical advice.
Wash your hands immediately after applying the treatment.
Don’t touch or rub your eyes while you have topical cream on your hands.
Wearing a neoprene joint wrap after applying the treatment will keep the area warm and may boost its effectiveness (NB check product leaflet first in case the manufacturer does not advise this).
Follow the directions on the package as some products may need to be used at regular intervals, while others may be used as and when necessary.
Do not use any topical treatments if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, without seeking advice from a pharmacist or doctor.
Have you used any rub-in pain killing creams, ointments or gels and found them helpful? If so, what symptoms did they relieve? How long did they take to work for you?
Click here to read my review of LQ Liquid Health Joint Care.
Click here to read my review of the best non-prescription oral pain killers.
Click here to read my post on the 9 Best Supplements For Knee Pain.
Click here to read about methods of pain relief for tennis elbow.
Click here to read about the best relieving devices.
Image credit: geralt/
This is the Blue Emu. This element is carefully combined with Aloe Vera Cream and several other elements in order to provide the best strength formula. Other elements include stearic acid, cetyl alcohol, water, and other amazing ingredients.
The product also combines the usefulness of Glucosamine and MSM with the anti-inflammatory nature of Aloe Vera and Emu Oil to restore strength in your body and eradicate discomfort. What makes this product to be unique is its primary ingredient.
The ingredient is certified by the AEA (American Emu Association). This element is rich in omega 3, 6, and 9, as well as essential fatty acids. These fatty acids work similar to those of human body.
The cream comes in a value size container and soothes muscle and joint pain. It is also non-greasy, doesn‚Äôt mess your cloth, and is odor-free. It also offers one of the best penetrations that you will find in arthritis creams. It is also friendly to your skin ‚Äì no burning effect.
Key Features and Highlights
- Comes in a value sized jar
- Deep penetrating support for faster relief
- Effective ingredients such as Emu Oil and Aloe Vera
- America‚Äôs number one product
- Soothes muscles and joint pain
- Non-greasy and odor free
- Doesn‚Äôt sting or burn your skin
- No offensive odor
- Has soothing Aloe Vera
- A bit expensive
4. Miracle Rub 32 OZ – Pain Relieving Cream
Thousands have experienced effective and fast relief from muscle and joint pain with this miracle pain relieving product. The product is well designed to offer you immediate pain relief through a simple application ‚Äì you don‚Äôt need to keep on rubbing and rubbing until your skin gets red.
Therefore, if you are one of those individuals who suffer from the agonizing pain due to Bursitis, back, leg, or arm pain, arthritis, or stiff, sore muscles, this cream is for you.
It is a unique relieving product that combines the superb penetrating power of pure 42 percent UltraAloe gel with scientifically proven pain relievers to provide you fast, efficient relief from the nagging discomfort, inflammation, and pain you have been living with.
You only need to apply this rub and you will be surprised how fast it penetrates your skin to relieve stiffness, soreness, and pain. You are assured of enjoying life more every day because you will be free of pain. The product is also perfect for bruises, sprains, and strains.
The cream features a fast acting element that relief minor muscular pains and aches, arthritis pain, painful joints, sprains, bruises, and strains. The product is also effective at bringing warmth to your body, which is a great thing for relieving pain.
The other great features of this product are that it is paraben-free, non-greasy, doesn‚Äôt stain your cloth, and is safe for diabetic people use. It is also an affordable product that you may buy over-the-counter (you don‚Äôt need a doctor to prescribe it).
- Works faster to relieve pain and restore comfort
- Ideal for rheumatism, bursitis, and arthritis sufferers
- Bring warmth and soothing effect to painful muscles, tendons, and joints
- Fast and easier penetrating relief from pain due to sore backs, knees, muscles, hands, painful tendons, and swollen joints
- 42 percent pure ultraAloe
- Safe for diabetics people use
- Works quickly to relieve your pain
- Relief for sore muscles, sprains, and strains
- Effective product
- It is a bit smelly
5. Capzasin-HP – Best Rated Arthritis Cream
Unlike other arthritis relief products that offer instant relief, this product reduces pain slowly and need to be applied continually to experience and sustain its benefits. Although this might seem like a shortcoming, its benefits are quite effective in the long-run (you are assured of having a pain free-future).
The primary ingredient in this product is Capzasin-HP. This is the element that is found in Chile Peppers that leads to the hotness. The product relieves your pain by temporarily disconnecting the pain receptors in your nerve endings.
The directions state for using this product is 4 times a day and rub into the affected part until it is completely absorbed. It is also quite critical to remember to wash your hands with soap after touching the cream (you may wear gloves).
In addition, avoid using this cream in open wounds, near eyes, in mucous membranes, or on irritated skin.
The product is quite safe, easily available, easy to use, and has minimal side effects. Many people with chronic pain problem have used this product to relieve their pain.
The formula contains 0.1 percent capsaicin, just the right amount. It also comes in a lightweight tube that is easy to carry and is easy to store in bag, purse, and desk.
- Gradual but effective pain relief
- Contains 0.1 percent capsaicin
- Provides long-run pain relief
- Easily available and safe product
- Has minimal side effect
- 100 percent money-back guarantee
- Hours of relief
- Easy to carry around
- No smell
- Might burn if over-applied
With so many arthritis creams on the shelves today, it might be a daunting task to find the perfect product for your needs. Keep trying different creams until you find the best arthritis cream for your skin type.
In addition, if you have any concern, always remember to consult your doctor. He/she might help you get the best cream for your skin type.
In addition, remember that these products are usually absorbed via your skin. You need to rub them thoroughly over your painful parts. Due to this, most of these products are best applied on joints that are near to your skin‚Äôs area, such as the joints in your knees and hands.
With that said, ensure that you get a product that is friendly, to not only your skin, but also your pocket, and a cream that brings the desired results.
After a hard workout at the gym or a long day of putting in your time for the Man sitting behind a desk, nothing feels better in bringing relief to sore, cranky muscles than slapping on some soothing, pain-numbing sports cream. Instantly, you feel calmed by that cool feeling of menthol, and all the troubles of the day drift away.
More than likely, this scenario speaks to you in some way, considering over 76 million Americans deal with some sort of muscle or joint pain on a daily basis. That’s one in four people who complain of pain, whether it be occassional minor pains or chronic lifed-interfering pain.
However, with so many over-the-counter (OTC) topical pain relief creams or ointments to choose from, which one brings the best relief in a way that isn’t damaging to your body and your skin? Read on to make sure you have all the information you need to make the decision that’s best for you.
How Do Pain Creams Work?
Sports creams and other pain relief creams and ointments are topicals that are applied directly to the skin to help relieve muscle and joint pain temporarily. They relieve pain associated with:
- muscle soreness
Many sports creams and other pain relief creams contain a combination of menthol and camphor. This combination causes an opening of the blood vessels called vasodilation. Vasodilation promotes increased blood flow, and when that rush of blood reaches a painful area, it works as a painkiller on the nerve-receptors in the affected area.
Additionally, the combination of menthol and camphor found in many sports creams work as a counterirritant. The sensation of cold immediately followed by a sensation of hot that these counterirritants create, the brain becomes confused when it is forced to feel both of these sensations at the same time. As a result, it blocks the sensations being sent by the nervous system, altogether, and the body does not feel the pain at all.
As mentioned previous, there are a number of topical sports creams on the market to choose from, but not all of them work the same or are the best for your overall health. Here is a list of the most popular.
Biofreeze is a menthol-based sports cream whose main selling point is that it eases pain two times better than ice by creating such a cooling effect that it sends a signal to the brain to feel no pain. Many people use Biofreeze as their go-to for back pain, since that seems to be what it’s most effective in relieving, especially for long periods of time – up to five hours – which makes it ideal for hard laborers and those who punch in at the “Cube Farm” for eight hours a day.
Other big selling points include Biofreeze’s purported ability to help with recovery when applied before a workout. It’s also made up mostly of all-natural ingredients and is free of parabens, a big selling point for the health-conscious. It does contain some chemical ingredients that can prove harmful if used for prolonged periods of time, and it’s missing CBD oil, an all-natural ingredient proven to be an excellent skin-soothing agent.
For years, when you thought of a topical pain relief, Bengay likely came to mind. While Bengay has had a strong media presence throughout the years. It contains more menthol than BioFreeze and negligible amounts of camphor. Bengay’s main ingredient, however, is methyl salicylate, a pain reliever that is also found in aspirin.
Salicylates can be toxic, leading to salicylate intoxication if used with too much frequency, which is a legitimate concern since Bengay does not last very long and needs to be reapplied in order to feel relief.
IcyHot is a counterirritant that vollies between a cold sensation and then a hot sensation when applied to aching muscles. Like Bengay, it contains the combinations of menthol and camphor or menthol and methyl salicylate. As mentioned before, methyl salicylate lends to the potential for salicylate intoxication. Sports creams have also caused chemical burns ranging in severity, which is especially concerning if you use patches that can be left on the skin for hours at a time.
IcyHot does contain some natural ingredients like eucalyptus and menthol, but its ingredient list is largely unnatural, which can do more harm than good for your skin and your body.
CBDMEDIC’s Active Sport topicals and additional pain creams, ointment, and sticks use many of the same naturally-derived active ingredients like menthol and camphor as other OTC topical pain relief products, which penetrate deep into the muscles for cooling pain relief. However, where it differs is its proprietary blend of additional all-natural ingredients.
CBDMEDIC’s pain relief ointments, creams, and pain sticks use jojoba seed oil, beeswax, CBD hemp oil, emollients which have proven to aid in the absorption of ingredients like menthol and camphor and sooth the skin. Most importantly, they are natural or naturally-derived.
After all, what you put on your body is as important as what you put in your body. Treating your pain naturally gives your skin the added protection it needs.
With CBDMEDIC, you can rest easy when you slather some of the natural pain relief ointments, creams, massage oils, or pain sticks on your sore muscles, knowing you’re using naturally-derived, top-quality ingredients that work to treat the pain and your body well.
Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only. It has not been approved by the FDA to diagnose, treat, prevent, cure, or mitigate any diseases or conditions. We use CBD in our products for cosmetic purposes only.
Products Similar to Bio Freeze
ALCis Daily Pain Relief Cream
Biofreeze is a pain relief product that comes in the form of a gel and uses ilex, an herbal extract, as one of the main ingredients to help relieve arthritis pain, aches, sore joints and stiff muscles. If Biofreeze does not work for you or if you need a pain relieving formula specific to a certain part of the body, there are multiple other options from which to choose. It’s also important to note that some individuals have allergic reactions to Biofreeze because of the menthol used as one of the ingredients.
ALCiS Daily Pain Relief Cream uses a liposomic formula to safely penetrate the skin without any irritation and can be used for aching joints, sore muscles, back pain, stiffness, arthritis, neck pain and foot pain 345. ALCiS uses a greaseless and stainless formula, void of steroids, while using natural botanicals and antioxidants to refresh and rejuvenate the skin 4. Unlike Biofreeze, ALCiS uses a formula that does not cool or heat up the skin 4. Active ingredients include trolamine salicylate in addition to a long list of other ingredients such as camellia leaf extract, cyclomethicone, cetyl alcohol, disodium EDTA, glucosamine sulfate, grape seed extract and xanthum gum.
Is This an Emergency?
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Nature’s Chemist is commonly used by physical therapists and sports-related massage therapy professionals and has the highest concentration of menthol compared to other similar pain-relief gels and creams. As one of the primary active ingredients, menthol helps to penetrate muscles and tissues that are tight or spasming. Nature’s Chemist also uses other ingredients such as lavender. Because of its lack of other forms of alcohol, Nature’s Chemist does not evaporate as quickly as other similar topical ointments.
Sombra Pain Gel
Sombra pain gel, which some individuals find is more effective than Biofreeze, is a pain gel that utilizes active ingredients such as witch hazel, menthol, camphor, capsaicin, aloe vera, grapefruit seed and green tea extracts 2. According to CheapRelief, Sombra pain relief gel not only contains a high concentration of natural ingredients, but also detoxifies and relaxes sore joints 2. Sombra also markets its pain-relief products in the form of lotions and creams, ranging in size from four ounces to gallon-sized jugs 2.
Similar to Biofreeze, Orthogel is used for cold therapy and contains ilex, which is an extract from holly bushes in South America. Other ingredients include glucosamine, boswellia, curcumin, menthol, camphor and vitamin E. The chemical composition of Orthogel allows it to also be applied as a greaseless, stainless gel that does not leave any lingering odors.
There are several other products on the market for muscle and arthritic pain relief, ranging from IcyHot, Stopain, Sportscreme, Tiger Balm and Mineral Ice. Some products, such as Aspercreme and Bengay contain aspirin as an active ingredient, which may cause concern for some individuals who cannot or do note want to take aspirin for medical reasons. Another ingredient may include capsaicin, which causes burning sensations and relieves stored up pain messenger chemicals in nerve cells.
The Wrap Up
ALCiS Daily Pain Relief Cream uses a liposomic formula to safely penetrate the skin without any irritation and can be used for aching joints, sore muscles, back pain, stiffness, arthritis, neck pain and foot pain 3. Another ingredient may include capsaicin, which causes burning sensations and relieves stored up pain messenger chemicals in nerve cells.
When it comes to back pain relief creams, there are so many options available online and in stores, it is easy to become overwhelmed. How do you know which one is the best option for you? That’s why we’ve put together a list of the top 10 creams to help relieve your back pain quickly and effectively. Each back cream has its benefits and its downfalls, but we hope this helps narrow down your selections.
Use these back pain relief creams in the morning to get through the day, in the evening to sleep through the night, or before or after activities to keep you moving. Whether you’re dealing with upper back pain, lower back pain, arthritis pain, sciatica pain or beyond, we’ve got you covered (literally).
Biofreeze Pain Relieving Gel with Soothing Menthol
Trusted by healthcare professionals, from chiropractors to athletic trainers, BioFreeze is sure to relieve your back pain. BioFreeze gel is not sticky or greasy but will get to the source of your pain, whether it is muscle pain, joint pain or arthritis pain. BioFreeze is available in different packaging to suit your needs, including a regular tube, a bottle with a hand pump and a roll-on applicator for mess-free back pain relief.
2. Tiger Balm
Tiger Balm Sport Rub Ultra Pain Relieving Ointment
Tiger Balm provides nearly immediate relief for chronic back pain. It cools and soothes aching muscles and lasts for hours after application. It contains camphor and menthol, so the effects (and scent) are strong, but it’s one of the top-rated pain relief products on the market. If you’ve never had success with topical creams, Tiger Balm might just be the answer.
3. Icy Hot
Icy Hot Pain Relieving Cream
Icy Hot is probably the first thing you think of when you picture back pain relief products, and for good reason. It’s available over-the-counter at any pharmacy or convenience store and it comes in many forms, such as cream, balm, spray, patches and more. Despite the powerful odor, Icy Hot is one of the most trusted and widely used pain relievers on the market.
4. Sore No More
Sore No More Natural Pain Relieving Gel
Sore No More Natural Pain Relieving Gel contains natural ingredients, such as extracts of aloe vera, green tea and orange peel. It comes in both a tub of gel and a roll-on, but Amazon reviews suggest that the direct application of the gel is more effective. In addition to direct application, Sore No More can also be added to a warm bath for water therapy pain relief from head to toe.
5. Rub On Relief
Rub On Relief
Rub On Relief anti-inflammatory cream is a pricier option, but a little goes a long way. Although it might not work as quickly as other creams on this list, its homeopathic ingredients help decrease pain and increase mobility long-term instead of just providing temporary relief. Rub On Relief also has a much milder scent compared to many other pain relief creams on the market.
CryoDerm Cold Pain Relief Gel
CryoDerm comes in a spray or roll-on applicator and absorbs into the skin quickly, making it ones of the least messy options to help relieve your back pain. It is powerful, begins working in minutes and keeps the pain away for hours. Be sure to read instructions and warnings carefully to avoid causing burns on the skin; it’s that strong.
7. doTERRA Deep Blue Rub
doTERRA Deep Blue Rub
If you are looking for more natural home remedies, doTERRA is a great option. doTERRA is a comprised of a blend of essential oils, including peppermint, camphor and chamomile, plus additional healing ingredients to give you hot and cold sensations that do away with pain. In addition to pain relieving, this cream is moisturizing, leaving your skin soft, not sticky or greasy.
8. Sombra Warm Therapy
Sombra Warm Therapy Natural Pain Relieving Gel
Sombra Warm Therapy Natural Pain Relieving Gel provides warming sensations, while doubling as an anti-inflammatory cream, working at the source of pain instead of just the symptoms. If you can’t stand the minty smell of many pain relief creams and gels, Sombra Warm Therapy has an orange scent, although it’s still a strong one.
Truly odorless, non-greasy and anti-inflammatory, Topricin is a wonderful option for mild to moderate pain. It won’t completely numb severe pain, but it’s a great alternative to taking Ibuprofen to help take the edge off of back pain without risking damage to the kidneys.
10. Muscle Relief Synergy Blend Essential Oil
Muscle Relief Synergy Blend Essential Oil
Muscle Relief Synergy Blend Essential Oil – What would this list be without essential oils? There are many essential oil blends for pain relief, but this one in particular contains cloves, helichrysum, peppermint and wintergreen and helps relieve muscle pain in the back with heating and cooling sensations. The ingredients and effects are similar to doTERRA Deep Blue Rub at a lower price, and the essential oil blend can be mixed into lotion to get the same moisturizing benefits.
- Incorporate massage into the application of back pain relief cream. Many of these products have numbing effects, which allow you to dig into the muscles that may be the source of your pain.
- Prioritize your back pain relief cream needs. If ease of application is very important to you, look for an option with a spray or roll-on applicator. If you value all-natural ingredients, start with an essential oil blend or cream containing natural extracts.
- If over-the-counter methods are not effective in easing your pain, consult your doctor. You might need a stronger medication or treatment methods that require prescriptions.
We’ve presented our top recommendations for back pain relief creams, but in the end it’s important to remember that it all comes down to personal preference. Just like any pain relief product, you might find one doesn’t work for you at all, while the sensations from another are stronger than what you need. Keep trying until you find the one that is the best fit for you and your pain.
Either way, we hope one of the products we’ve recommended is the solution you’ve been looking for to help relieve your back pain so you can remain active and live a pain-free, healthy life.
Your perfect, grapefruit-shaped glutes aren’t the only things suggesting you’ve been working hard. Your tired, creaky muscles are aching for a little attention too. Fortunately you can melt away muscle tension with a few good rubs and keep your pain from sidelining your workouts. Muscle creams are generally easy to find, and they soothe varying levels of soreness — even after just one application. Most work by boosting circulation enough to remove lactic acid, a buildup of muscular debris that occurs when you pump blood to your muscles faster than it flows back to your heart, says Allan Levy, Ph.D., coauthor of the Sports Injury Handbook. To help you loosen up, WH editors really pushed it (we ran harder and longer, put in extra time at the gym, and signed up for a new Pilates class), then tested six salves to see whether they hit the spot.
Aloette Soothing Muscle Rejuvenator
2-oz tube sold as part of Aloette’s Stress Free Living Kit: $45
Tester Says: “This lightweight lotion left a cool layer of relief on my shoulders and back, and it lasted for a few hours after my weight-lifting session.”
Key Ingredients: Menthol, witch hazel, and St. John’s wort oil
Why it Works
Menthol combines with energizing witch hazel, a tingling astringent that draws inflammation from the area, says Sue Williams, N.D., a naturopathic physician at Phoenix Body Positive in Arizona. It also contains St. John’s wort, “an herb which has tannin and amentoflavone, components that also reduce inflammation,” she says.
Best for moderate soreness (like an achy deskbound back) and anytime you want continuous cooling relief. It smells a lot better than most rubs too — like cloves, not medicine. You can apply this cream frequently without irritating your skin — or your neighbors.
Hyland’s Arnica Montana 1X
$6.50 for 1 oz, Homeopathic Laboratories
Tester Says: “Surgery left my back muscles constantly sore, but this thick, nontingling ointment eased most of the tension and pain about 10 minutes after I applied. It also absorbed quickly, leaving my skin super smooth.”
Key Ingredients: Arnica and beeswax
Why it Works
It’s virtually pure arnica (a European herb that grows from Spain all the way to southern Scandinavia), which increases blood flow, moving old blood (like bruises) away from an injury and bringing in fresh healing reserves. Beeswax thickens the cream to help bind the arnica to your skin so it won’t rub off.
Best for super-sore muscles and actual sprains. You can apply it as frequently as needed, and it’s virtually fragrance-free (there’s a hint of black licorice scent, but it’s not offensive). You can also dab a little on bruises — just avoid broken skin.
Badger Sore Muscle Rub
$8 for 2 oz, Uncommon Scents
Tester Says: “This waxy balm completely calmed my shoulders and upper back after a day spent hunched over my computer, but it also left my hands sticky — so I waited just a few minutes before -putting on a shirt.”
Key Ingredients: Cayenne extract, ginger, and extra virgin olive oil
Why it Works
Extra virgin olive oil is moisturizing and ultra-penetrating, so the cayenne pepper extracts (better known as capsaicin) can get into skin to work on reducing pain. Capsaicin (which dates back to the mid-16th century, when cayenne pepper was used for everything from stroke prevention to toothache treatment) works as a counter-irritant, producing a small amount of swelling and redness, which warms the area and increases healing circulation. The slight skin irritation it can cause helps mask deep-seated pain.
Best for preemptive protection. The rub quickly increases circulation, so it can help warm and loosen your muscles faster before your workout. The spicy ginger smell also delivers a mental wake-up. It’s good for minor soreness, but if you need to apply it more than twice, switch to a more potent balm.
Kathleen Lewis Stiff And Sore
$24 for 4 oz, Vickerey
Tester Says: “After my first Pilates session in 2 months, I applied this light cream to my abs. It was a little greasy, but the next day I could stretch my arms over my head without feeling like I was going to tear myself in half.”
Key Ingredients: Arnica, comfrey, and peppermint
Why it Works
Tea tree oil helps arnica quickly penetrate (the oil has -chemical properties that cause it to dissolve into your skin), and the comfrey is a centuries-old (we’re talking monks in the Middle Ages), homeopathic bruise remedy that stimulates tissue repair and nerve regeneration.
Best for deep-tissue massage. The balm contains grapeseed oil, which makes it slick. It will also soothe your sinuses, and the strong peppermint odor is -pleasant — like Doublemint gum.
Tiger Balm Pain Relieving Ointment
$5 for .63 oz, Drugstore.com
Tester Says: “My calves ball into rocks after I run. Within seconds of applying the slightly slippery ointment, my calves started tingling until they were practically numb. I woke up the next morning and the knots had unraveled.”
Key Ingredients: Menthol and camphor
Why it Works
These two ingredients make up a super-potent 11 percent of the balm — a highly concentrated dose compared with the amount in other balms, Dr. Levy says. Menthol (derived from peppermint and other mint oils that contain anesthetic properties) soothes and helps counter the topical numbing effect of the camphor. Camphor comes from an Asian evergreen tree, and, though it produces a cooling feeling like menthol, it tends to be stronger. “Camphor causes heat that rushes blood to the area and numbs it,” Dr. Williams explains.
Best for intense postworkout soreness. Its strength can help dissolve pain, and the increased circulation it causes stimulates healing. But use this balm before you get into bed — and even then, wash your sheets — because the strong trainer’s-room odor can linger for a few days.
Zip’s Muscle Rub
$11 for 2.5 oz, Zip’s Natural Sport
Tester Says: “I managed to run 7 miles (2 more than usual) without keeling over. Climbing a flight of stairs afterward? That was tough. I felt nothing when I first rubbed in the waxy formula (and I had to warm it in my hands first to thin it and make it easier to apply), but the next morning, my thighs were functional.”
Key Ingredients: Arnica, menthol, wild yam, white willow extracts
Why it Works
Menthol helps ease pain, and wild yam (a root used by the Mayans and Aztecs to help relax muscles during childbirth) and white -willow bark reduce inflammation. “They derive aspirin from white willow bark, so it’s a topical pain reliever. It contains salicin, which is both anti-inflammatory and analgesic,” Dr. Williams says. “And wild yam has alkaloid properties, which means that it can help ease muscle contractions.”
Best for sore muscles that spasm. Apply it just before bed to keep overworked legs from twitching in your sleep. It looks like an Altoids tin and smells just like the mints inside.
- Share This Article
- Pin It
We all feel muscle or joint soreness on a regular basis – whether you’re 19 or 90. The cause of the soreness can range from a hard workout, to arthritis, to simply sitting at the desk. Soreness and joint pain are often manageable with some slight discomfort, but at its worst, the pain can make simple activities such as walking a painful experience.
Luckily, there’s an affordable, easy way to soothe the soreness: muscle relaxant creams (a.k.a. analgesic). These topical solutions contain ingredients that either increase circulation by heating and then cooling, or deliver pain medication (salicylates) directly to the sore muscle via absorption.
As with any over-the-counter medication, there’s a wide range of products with some working far better than others. To help find a muscle relaxant cream that will actually get the job done, we’ve rounded up some of the best below.
(Note: while these are great over the counter options for general stiffness or sore muscles, if you suffer from severe pain it’s best to go see a doctor).
1. Sombra Natural Pain Relieving Gel
If you’re in a hurry to get some easy pain relief, skip the rest and get this versatile, all-natural cream from Sombra. It comes highly recommended by users and other outlets alike, so you can trust that it really works. It doesn’t contain any alcohol, features a citrus scent you’ll actually want on your body (not the medicinal smell of many relaxant creams), and works for occasional soreness as well as pain from chronic conditions like fibromyalgia.
To apply the cream, take a dollop on your finger or a cotton ball and rub it into the painful area (just be sure to wash your hands after).
Courtesy of Amazon
2. Bengay Pain Relief Cream
Bengay is a trusted pain relief brand that’s been around for over 120 years, and comes with a very manageable price tag under $7. If you use pain relief cream often, this is a good bet as you’ll end up spending less in the long-run. The cream’s main ingredients are camphor, menthol, and methyl salicylate, which are strong and effective at quickly reducing pain, although not the most natural.
Courtesy of Amazon
3. Biofreeze Pain Relief Gel
BEST FOR ARTHRITIS
This Biofreeze is another highly-recommended pain relief gel with over 1300 reviews and 4.4 stars on Amazon. Part of the reason it’s so well-reviewed is the easy roll-on design, meaning no messy hand-application and no massaging. This ease makes the gel great for frequent application due to arthritis.
Courtesy of Amazon
4. Art of Sport Recovery Cream
BEST FOR POST-WORKOUT
One of the most popular uses for pain relief cream is for post-workout recovery. Whether you’re lifting weights, playing a sport or going for a long run, your body takes a beating. Good pain-relief cream, like this one from Art of Sport, will speed up the recovery process, allowing you to exercise more often. It does this with simple ingredients – arnica and eucalyptus – that naturally reduce pain and nourish the tissue.
Courtesy of Amazon
5. Venu Anti Cellulite & Relaxant Cream
Some muscle relaxants do double duty as anti-cellulite creams. This means the cream breaks down stubborn fat cells in the stomach, hips or buttocks and tightens the skin while simultaneously soothing the muscles. We like this one from Venu because it utilizes chamomile and capsicum – two natural, effective ingredients.
Capsicum is the main ingredient in hot chili peppers (seriously!), and when used in pain relief creams, it creates a warm, tingling sensation that calms the muscles.
Courtesy of Amazon
6. Cramp 911 Muscle Relaxing Lotion
BEST FOR CRAMPS
For fast-acting muscle pain relief (i.e. a bad cramp), keep some of this aptly-named Cramp 911 on deck. It works in as little as 15 seconds, and with a roll-on bottle, it’s easy to apply too. It also lasts up to eight hours, so you can use it at night if muscle pain is keeping you up.
Courtesy of Amazon
7. Hemp Pain Relief Roll-On Gel
BEST NATURAL CREAM
Add muscle pain relief to Hemp’s quickly expanding list of uses. This roll-on muscle relaxant contains 300mg of pure hemp seed oil which translates to fast-acting, natural pain relief. It comes highly-rated with 4.9 stars and a handful of reviews from customers that were skeptical of hemp products until trying this gel. Roll some on before and after intense activity for best results.
Courtesy of Amazon
Relieve Muscle Pain With These Professional-Grade Personal Massagers
Oh, for the days when we could innocently “borrow” from a friend’s prescription to get over a migraine or pulled muscle. Thanks to the opioid addiction sweeping the nation, those days are long gone. Even if you’re not freaked out by the side effects of today’s ultra-potent prescription drugs, your doctor probably is—statistics show that healthcare providers are now swinging the other way, prescribing a lot less pain relief medication than they used to.
Over-the-counter solutions aren’t much better. In the past decade, health officials have warned about the liver-damaging side effects of acetaminophen (the main ingredient in Tylenol), the potential for ibuprofen to trigger heart problems and internal bleeding, and naproxen’s link to heartburn, nausea and other gastrointestinal issues.
Of course, none of these pain relief options are so bad as one-off solutions. The problem arises when they’re used to combat frequent or chronic pain. If you’re prone to stress headaches, work a physically demanding job, or suffer from an old injury that acts up, you’re going to want a pain relief solution that doesn’t compromise your long-term health because what’s the point in getting rid of the pain if you’re damaging your vital organs in the process?
Fortunately, we live in an era rich in alternatives. Natural pain relief options abound on the market these days, and no, we’re not talking about murky tinctures brewed in your hippie aunt’s kitchen. These are science-backed formulas created by doctors and pharmacists and endorsed by professional athletes.
We tested out some of the best natural pain relief solutions out there, from old-timey classics to cutting-edge products to (of course) so-hot-right-now CBD-based formulas. Not only are our picks quick and effective, they also feel extra-nice on the skin and, in many cases, deliver a light, pleasing fragrance that beats the hell out of popping pills.
Note: No matter which natural pain relief option you choose, read the ingredients carefully to ensure they don’t include something you’re allergic to, choose the right dosage strength for your needs, and make sure to apply to clean, dry skin.
Best Topical Pain Relief Products
Tiger Balm Red Extra Strength Pain Relieving Ointment
A time-tested classic that is now available in all kinds of formulations (gel, spray, even a patch), this analgesic works the same way it has since 1908. A combination of menthol, camphor, and pepper oils create a tingly hot-and-cold sensation that soothes and restores sore muscles and joints.
Biofreeze Pain Relief Gel
If you’re craving for a cooling sensation from overworked, overheated limbs, reach for this perennial favorite. The main ingredient of menthol stimulates nerve receptors to block the signals of pain to your brain. Way better than an ice pack, this topical solution lets you recover without tightening your muscles (and making them more prone to injury).
The Feel Good Lab Natural Pain Relief Cream
Formulated from 30+ natural ingredients like arnica, magnesium, and so many more, this lotion acts like an aisle’s worth of supplements in one. We can attest to the magical powers of this lotion—even the aches and pains left by an afternoon of splitting wood disappeared seconds after slathering it on. The company promises that it works even better after seven or more days of continuous use. We’re more than ready to try.
Life Elements CBD Ache and Pain Relief Stick
This beeswax-based balm is a treat to apply—why hasn’t anybody ever given us lotion in a stick before? It brings a combo of warm and cool sensations thanks to ginger, peppermint, and cinnamon oils, but the true healing action comes courtesy of CBD derived full-spectrum hemp oil. (Don’t worry—hemp-derived CBD is legal to purchase no matter where you live – and it also won’t get you high.)
Life Elements CBD Men’s Bath Bomb
Nothing feels better on sore muscles than a long soak in a hot bathtub…unless that bathtub is also filled with CBD! Made with water-soluble, full spectrum, nano CBD for a higher absorption rate, as well as pine and fir balsam essential oils, this is a bathroom accessory right up there with toilet paper and razor blades.
Floyd’s of Leadville Transdermal Isolate CBD Cream
Formulated with the best anti-inflammatory CBD strains, this muscle cream melts the pain away in just minutes. Users say it’s not only good for achy limbs but also shingles, arthritis, and even hemorrhoids.
- Your Guide to Natural Fragrances for Men
- A Complete Guide to Winter Skincare for Men
- Retinol For Men: What to Know and What to Buy
- The Best Shaving Creams for Men to Get the Closest Shave Possible
- Mother Dirt Wants You to Put Bacteria on Your Skin
Have you ever woken up with muscles so sore you can’t even move? Almost every time I go exercise I come back super sore and my mom tells me to use IcyHot or Bengay. This made me wonder—do topical muscle creams actually work?
Delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS starts to appear “within 12 to 24 hours after exercise, peaks after 24 to 72 hours, and should disappear within three to five days.” This happens when the muscle tissues are stressed and small tears in the muscle appear when you contract your muscle.
Muscle creams contain three main ingredients: menthol, camphor and methyl salicylate. These ingredients create feelings of warm and cold to the skin and “competes with and helps to block the pain signals associated with DOMS…so has no direct effect on the muscles themselves.” Since there is no direct contact between the cream and the sore muscles, it is believed that the muscle cream “distracts” the nervous system from the pain of the muscles and concentrates on the sensations of hot and cold.
Dr. William O. Roberts claims that “We try to treat based on the scientific literature, and I personally haven’t seen a lot of good literature supporting the use of topical analgesic so unless someone does a double-blind study with lots of proof, we really don’t have good evidence that these products make any difference.” Since there has been little research on the use of sports creams, there is no proof as to whether or not easing muscle pain with creams is due to the placebo effect. One solution could be giving two randomized groups of 200 people specific workout regimens and handing one group a sports cream, while handing the other a placebo. The only problem with this is that people have different levels of strength and some people will be more sore than others, so those who are more sore might believe the cream doesn’t work.
Ultimately, there are not enough studies to prove whether muscle creams work. Personally, the hot and cold sensations relieve my muscle pain, so using these sports creams is up to personal preference. Since these creams haven’t done any harm to my skin or muscles, I might as well just continue using them.