Getting a random whiff of Bengay or Biofreeze always brings us back to days in the high school locker room, where teammates would rub the creams all over achy muscles before and after practice.
While muscle creams aren’t a panacea, local physical therapist Dr. Jamey Schrier says they’re still worth the rub. “Most patients just want something to give them a little bit of relief when they go home,” he says.
So how do the creams work their temporary relief? Depending on the type you choose, they either cool or warm up muscles. But in general, says Schrier, “They basically act as a numbing agent, decreasing the sensitivity of that area to make spasms or pains feel better.” The creams help boost circulation to the achy areas, removing lactic acid buildup.
While common creams such as Icy Hot are standbys, there are a few lesser-known, nature-friendly options that are also worth a try.
Read this pain reliever’s ingredients label and you’ll find a long list of natural ingredients and herbs, including turmeric, willow bark, ginger, rosemary extract, holy basil, boswellia extract, and alpha lipoic acids. Developed by Dr. Reza Ghorbani, the president and medical director for the DC-based Advanced Pain Medicine Institute, Noxicare’s ingredients have anti-inflammatory properties and help increase blood flow to the muscle nerves. A bonus: Noxicare is odorless, unlike the distinctive-smelling Biofreeze or Icy Hot.
Arnica is a medicinal plant that’s often used to treat skin wounds and bruises. It’s been proven to provide relief for aches and pains equivalent to typical over-the-counter medications. A study published in 2007 found that arnica gel worked just as well at relieving pain in osteoarthritis patients as ibuprofen. You’ll likely find arnica in other gels and creams (such as Zip’s Muscle Rub and Vickerey), thanks to its proven potency.
This homeopathic cream contains 12 diluted, natural active ingredients—including arnica, chamomile, and echinacea—that work together to reduce joint, back, and muscle pain. It’s also available in an FDA-approved pill form. A warning: Don’t apply the ointment over large areas of skin or open wounds. Applying it two to three times daily on the hurt area should do the trick.
Badger Sore Muscle Rub
This organic rub contains extra-virgin olive oil, beeswax, ginger, rosemary, cinnamon, lemongrass—even cayenne. The cayenne adds extra heat, which help loosen the muscles. A warning: Be sure to wash your hands after application—no one likes getting pepper in their eyes!
Of course, if the pain doesn’t eventually subside or go away, you may be more than just sore—a trip to the doctor may be in order. “If [the cream] can give you some relief, great,” says Schrier. “But it’s not going to fix any injury you might have.”