All of us know the discomfort caused by painful muscles and joints. Instead of popping pain killers, it is often a better idea to try out pain relief creams. Many times we tend to dismiss pain creams as not being capable of providing relief from chronic pain. However, with so many options available today, there are many topical pain relief creams that work well in relieving pain by stimulating the sensory receptors in the skin and working to block the pain sensation.
Many pain relief creams contain counterirritants like camphor and menthol, which is why you feel the neutral sensation of coldness against your skin instead of the hot sensation caused by pain. These ingredients, in combination with the act of physically rubbing the pain relief cream on your skin, help relax the muscles and also increase blood circulation to the affected area. Even though pain relief creams cannot fix the pain, but they can be a critical part of managing your pain. Plus, there is no risk of getting addicted to these as there is with taking pain relieving medications. These pain relief creams are also affordable and easy to carry with you.
5 Best Pain Relief Creams
Here are some of the best pain relief creams to consider for relieving chronic pain:
Tiger Balm White Ointment
Tiger Balm White Ointment is considered to be one of the best pain relief creams, and many people swear that it is the gold standard for relieving topical joint pain. This topical pain reliever is not new, and it has been on the market for several decades now. The pain relief cream contains the ingredients menthol and camphor, which help create a cooling and soothing sensation. This helps relieve joint and muscle pain.
Studies have shown that the Tiger Balm White Ointment is useful in relieving muscle pain and also safe to use. There are only mild side effects associated with this pain relief cream, including skin irritations and allergic reactions in some people.(1)
The relief provided by this pain cream lasts for several hours, but it has a strong scent of clove, peppermint, and camphor, which might be too intense for some people.
Another popular pain relief cream, especially for treating arthritis pain, is Voltaren, or diclofenac. Voltaren is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs) gel, which is typically a class of drugs that are used to relieve pain and bring down inflammation.(4, 5)
Voltaren relieves muscle and joint pain, especially osteoarthritis pain experienced in joints of the hands, feet, and knees. Voltaren has been available in prescription strength since 2007, and in 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also approved an over-the-counter version of this pain relief cream.
Studies have shown that Voltaren is good at relieving stiffness and pain caused by arthritis. Since the cream has side effects than NSAID pills, it is also preferable for older adults and people with kidney or heart problems.(6)
Penetrex Therapy Cream
Penetrex Therapy Cream is often voted as the best pain relief cream by many owing to the soothing ingredients it contains that help reduces inflammation and pain. The cream is not your traditional menthol and camphor-containing topical pain relievers. It contains arnica, which is a herb that is frequently used in pain relief creams to help soothe the skin. (7) It also contains vitamin B6 and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM).
The cream is non-staining and non-greasy, so people can use it during the day as well without worrying about the strong smell or getting a stain on their clothes. This pain relief cream can be thought of as a natural pain reliever that contains arnica. Arnia is derived from the plant Arnica Montana, and it has been used for many centuries for medicinal purposes.
Arnica works well in pain management because it has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. When arnica cream or arnica gel is applied, it boosts blood circulation and helps the body’s own immune system react, encouraging speedy relief from pain. It also helps reduce swelling and relieve pain. Creams containing arnica can also be used on tendons and ligaments for getting relief from conditions like Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and foot or ankle sprains.(8, 9, 10, 11)
The Penetrex Therapy Cream helps heal and reduce inflammation, relieves soreness and pain, and also helps reduce bruising on the skin.(12)
Bengay Pain Relieving Cream
The Bengay Pain Relieving Cream is perhaps one of the most famous pain-relieving creams in the whole world. From arthritis to sprained ankles and any conditions that cause pain, Bengay has been a hot favorite with families for several decades now. The Bengay arthritis cream helps relieve muscle and bone pain.
The cream contains camphor, menthol, and salicylates, and it helps bring down inflammation while having both cooling and warming effects. Bengay works by causing the skin to feel both cool and then warm. These sensations on the skin work to distract you from feeling the aches that are deeper in your joints, muscles, and tendons.
While there are usually no serious side effects associated with this pain relief cream, it might cause redness, stinging, burning, or a feeling of warmth on the application site. While these sensations typically disappear within 10-15 minutes, if they continue to persist or worsen, you should contact your doctor immediately. If you experience any serious side effects like swelling, blistering, or severe redness at the application site, increased or unusual pain, nausea or vomiting, and ringing in the ears, you should immediately stop using the cream and inform your doctor right away.(13, 14)
Although very rare, if you develop a severe allergic reaction to this cream, seek medical help immediately or call your local emergency number like 911.
Bengay pain-reliving products are available in several forms, including gel, cream, and even patches. For people who are not too fond of the menthol smell that is typically associated with Bengay, the product is also available in a vanishing-scent option.
Mary’s Medicinals CBD Muscle Freeze
Mary’s Medicinals CBD Muscle Freeze might not be available everywhere, especially in places where CBD (cannabidiol) is not legalized. Mary’s Medicinals CBD Muscle Freeze works great for pain relief and reducing inflammation. It is available in a gel-like texture, and it absorbs well into the skin. The product is great for muscle strains, especially in the neck and shoulders. The infused topical cream contains CBD and some other whole-plant nutrients that provide quick relief from pain while also giving a soothing and cooling effect on the skin. The effect of the cream lasts for several hours.
Many people are often confused about how CBD or cannabidiol is used to relieve pain. Derived from the cannabis plant, topical products that contain CBD do not produce the traditional euphoric high typically associated with cannabis. CBD is just one of the over 100 compounds found in cannabis.(15) The human body has its own endocannabinoid system that receives signals from cannabinoids. The body also produces some natural cannabinoids known as endocannabinoids. This system helps regulate pain, sleep, and other immune system responses. CBD influences the body and boosts its own endocannabinoids more effectively to relieve pain and bring down inflammation.
It has a strong minty scent, and as compared to the other pain relieving creams, this cream is much more expensive.
If cannabis is not legal where you live, there is also a hemp-derived CBD version of the cream available that is legal everywhere. This plant-based version of the topical cream is infused with full-spectrum hemp extract that contains naturally occurring CBD to help with the pain. It also includes mango butter and menthol.
Some other pain relief creams that are known to help relieve pain and lower inflammation include:
Icy Hot Vanishing Gel: This pain relief cream contains both salicylates and menthol. It initially provides a cooling sensation and then heats the skin. The product is also available in a vanishing gel form for those who don’t like the strong menthol scent.
Aspercreme Odor-Free Topical Analgesic Cream: For people who don’t like the strong smell usually associated with pain-relieving creams, this product might be perfect. Aspercreme is an odor-free arthritis cream that contains salicylates but no counter-irritants. This is also a good option for people with sensitive skin.
Capzasin-HP Arthritis Cream: This pain relief cream contains the active ingredient capsaicin, which is the same compound that can be found in peppers, though the warming sensation produced by this cream is much milder than the one you usually feel when you eat peppers. However, some people may find that capsaicin irritates the skin. In such a case, immediately stop using the product.
Sportscreme Deep Penetrating Pain Relieving Rub: Sportscreme has the active ingredient salicylate, and this scented cream is of a thicker consistency than most other pain relief creams. This means that you have to rub it a little more to massage it into your skin.
While pain relief creams can be purchased over the counter, and you don’t need any prescription to purchase these products, it is still important that you use them safely. Here are some tips to help ensure that the pain relief cream you use is effective and safe:
- Always follow all the directions listed on the package when applying the cream.
- Wash your hands before and after applying the cream.
- Do not touch your eyes or any mucus membranes while still having the cream on your hands.
- Only use the cream about four times a day unless mentioned otherwise on the package.
- Immediately stop using the cream if you notice that your skin is sensitive to the product or if it causes any type of irritation.
- If you are sensitive or allergic to aspirin, it is a good idea to ask a doctor if you should use pain relief creams that contain salicylates. People who take prescription blood thinners should also avoid using such creams.
- Use salicylate creams only occasionally to avoid any side effects unless told otherwise by your doctor.
- Antonelli, M., Donelli, D. and Valussi, M., 2020. Efficacy, safety and tolerability of Tiger Balm® ointments: a systematic review and a meta-analysis of prevalence. Journal of Pharmacy & Pharmacognosy Research, 8(1), pp.1-17.
- Chan, T.Y., 1996. Potential dangers from topical preparations containing methyl salicylate. Human & experimental toxicology, 15(9), pp.747-750.
- Joss, J.D. and LeBlond, R.F., 2000. Potentiation of warfarin anticoagulation associated with topical methyl salicylate. Annals of Pharmacotherapy, 34(6), pp.729-733.
- Massey, T., Derry, S., Moore, R.A. and McQuay, H.J., 2010. Topical NSAIDs for acute pain in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (6).
- Derry, S., Conaghan, P., Da Silva, J.A.P., Wiffen, P.J. and Moore, R.A., 2016. Topical NSAIDs for chronic musculoskeletal pain in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (4).
- Bariguian Revel, F., Fayet, M. and Hagen, M., 2020. Topical diclofenac, an efficacious treatment for osteoarthritis: A narrative review. Rheumatology and therapy, 7(2), pp.217-236.
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. 2022. Arnica. [online] Available at: <https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/arnica> [Accessed 20 June 2022].
- Ernst, E., 2003. The benefits of Arnica: 16 case reports. Homeopathy, 92(4), pp.217-219.
- Smith, A.G., Miles, V.N., Holmes, D.T., Chen, X. and Lei, W., 2021. Clinical trials, potential mechanisms, and adverse effects of arnica as an adjunct medication for pain management. Medicines, 8(10), p.58.
- Stevinson, C., Devaraj, V.S., Fountain-Barber, A., Hawkins, S. and Ernst, E., 2003. Homeopathic arnica for prevention of pain and bruising: randomized placebo-controlled trial in hand surgery. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 96(2), pp.60-65.
- Lawrence, W.T. and Plastic Surgery Educational Foundation DATA Committee, 2003. Arnica. Plastic and reconstructive surgery, 112(4), pp.1164-1166.
- Kouzi, S.A. and Nuzum, D.S., 2007. Arnica for bruising and swelling. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 64(23), pp.2434-2443.
- Fishman, S.M., 2007. Aspirin, NSAIDs, and COX-2 Inhibitors, Glucosamine and Chondroitin, Neurontin for Pain, Antidepressants for Pain, Topical Analgesics: Ben Gay versus Capsaicin. Journal of Pain & Palliative Care Pharmacotherapy, 21(1), pp.91-97.
- McCarberg, B. and D’Arcy, Y., 2007. Target pain with topical peripheral analgesics. The Nurse Practitioner, 32(7), p.44.
- 2022. [online] Available at: <https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/cannabis-marijuana-and-cannabinoids-what-you-need-to-know> [Accessed 20 June 2022].