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- Muscle rubs can provide pain relief and anti-inflammatory properties to help you cope with acute and chronic pain.
- Our top pick, Penetrex, offers fast-acting relief in a non-greasy formula.
As a runner, musician, and equestrian with fibromyalgia, I’m no stranger to muscle pain and soreness. My hands and wrists ached particularly badly during college when I played the flute for countless hours a day, and back pain has plagued me for most of my adult life. To cope, I tried various muscle rubs and quickly amassed a collection of products – many didn’t work as well, but a few I ended up loving.
Choosing a great muscle rub can be tricky. You want something that works immediately, but that also lasts for hours. Many formulas are greasy no matter how much you rub them into your skin. Others are powerfully scented, making your eyes water and being a smelly distraction. I’ve also found that some can stain clothing, and after a particularly bad reaction to Capsaicin, I’m aware of how painful an allergic reaction can be.
The muscle rubs in this list are tried-and-true performers. They’re effective, not greasy, and while some are scented, the fragrance is minimal. These muscle rubs can make a great addition to your medicine cabinet and be a complementary treatment to pain medication, stretching, and hot and cold therapy.
While countless people have used these products without issue, it’s still possible for you to react negatively to a muscle rub. When trying a new product, make sure that you aren’t allergic to any of its ingredients. Always follow the product’s usage directions, and test it on a small area of your skin first. Muscle rubs can be used in conjunction with other pain-relieving methods, but don’t apply muscle rub before using a heating pad or wrapping or bandaging the affected area.
If you have any serious concerns, consult a physician before using.
Here are the best muscle rubs you can buy in 2019:
- Best muscle rub overall: Penetrex Pain Relief Cream
- Best muscle rub for cooling relief: Biofreeze Pain Relief Gel Roll-On
- Best muscle rub for warming relief: Sombra Warm Therapy Pain Relieving Gel
- Best natural muscle rub: Noxicare Natural Pain Relief Cream
- Best hemp muscle rub: Dr. Sayman’s Wonder Rub
Read on in the slides below to check out our top picks.
The best muscle rub overall
Why you’ll love it: Fast acting, nongreasy, and with your satisfaction guaranteed, Penetrex is an effective and highly popular muscle rub.
Penetrex offers fast-acting and effective topical pain relief. It’s useful for a variety of conditions, including arthritis, carpal tunnel, tennis elbow, and general muscle aches. According to the manufacturer, Penetrex treats the root causes of inflammation-related ailments, which can accelerate your recovery process. I find Penetrex provides relief within minutes, and that relief usually lasts for hours.
The active ingredient in Penetrex is arnica, and other non-active ingredients include sunflower seed oil, glucosamine, Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), Vitamin E, Vitamin B6, glycerin, and shea butter. Frankincense oil, peppermint oil, camphor, and JeaTree leaf oil gives Penetrex a scent, but it’s not overpowering and fades away quickly. This cream is not greasy and easily massages into your skin in about 20 seconds.
Penetrex is paraben-free, which makes it less likely to cause skin irritation. It’s nonstaining and is formulated and filled in an F.D.A.-certified laboratory. (This cream is made by Biomax Health Products, and the company has been in business since 1998.)
While Penetrex is sold by many online retailers, one of the best testaments to its effectiveness is its consistently high rating across all sites. Penetrex has a 4.4 out of 5-star rating on Walmart’s site, based on 117 reviews.
Pros: Nongreasy, paraben-free, fast acting, guaranteed
Cons: More expensive than some other muscle rubs
The best muscle rub for cooling relief
Why you’ll love it: Biofreeze Pain Relief Gel Roll-On offers fast-acting cooling relief, and the roll-on design makes for mess-free application.
Biofreeze Pain Relief Gel Roll-On offers soothing, cooling relief that helps to stop muscle pain. According to Performance Health Brands, the manufacturer of Biofreeze, this gel works almost like ice. It slows blood flow and cools your skin, relieving your pain at the same time. Performance Health Brands states that Biofreeze is nearly twice as powerful as ice.
Because menthol is the active ingredient in Biofreeze, it does have a light scent but it’s not overpowering and fades quickly. The gel contains no nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and propylene glycol- and paraben-free, so it’s a safe option for home use. You’ll also find that many healthcare professionals, including chiropractors and physical therapists, use Biofreeze in their offices.
My chiropractor first introduced me to Biofreeze, and it’s quickly become my go-to muscle rub for daily use. I can feel it working within about 2 minutes of application, and I find that the effects last for hours. It isn’t greasy, doesn’t stain clothing, and just a little bit of it is often enough to soothe muscle aches in my back. I particularly like the roll-on, mess-free design and the applicator itself gives a massaging effect.
Biofreeze Pain Relief Gel Roll-On has a 4.4 out of 5-star Amazon rating based on 1,420 reviews. “The portable, cylindrical canister is convenient, easy to carry in a backpack or sports bag, and quick and simple to apply. After long hikes or a day of working in the yard, Biofreeze is one of the first things I run to for pain relief,” Smartie Mama wrote.
Anna Carman said, “I am an occupational therapist who works in a hospital and is on my feet for more than [eight hours] while I help people to walk and move around all day. This is my go to to relieve my back pain, aches, and all the other fun stuff that comes with the territory of my line of work. I use this after hard workouts when I’m sore too as it helps me get through the workday.”
Pros: Roll-on design easy application, fast-acting, free of NSAIDs, parabens, and propylene glycol
Cons: Has a slight menthol scent
The best muscle rub for warming relief
Why you’ll love it: Sombra Warm Therapy Pain Relieving Gel starts working quickly and offers controlled warming that’s soothing and comfortable.
For deep aches and chronic pain, Sombra Warm Therapy Pain Relieving Gel offers a gentle warmth that helps to relieve pain and even improve circulation. This gel massages into your skin quickly and within a few minutes, you can feel its warming effects. For conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia, and bursitis, the warmth can help relax sore or tense muscles while simultaneously relieving pain.
I discovered Sombra Warm Therapy Pain Relieving Gel when I was looking for a product to relieve tension in my wrists from old injuries. This gel offers a comfortable warmth, rather than a burning heat. I’m particularly sensitive to irritants but tolerate this gel well. Ingredients including menthol, camphor, and witch hazel do give this gel a mild scent.
Sombra Warm Therapy Pain Relieving Gel has an impressive 4.6 out of 5-star Amazon rating based on 3,293 reviews. Moses Powell wrote, “Sombra gel is one of the best temporary pain-relieving gels. I have been in practice for 19 years and have used it for 17 of those years on patients, myself, and my family.”
Brandi C. Baldwin was equally as impressed by this gel: “It was recommended … due to ongoing knee pain. When I used it daily, eventually the pain simply stayed away. It released my pain enough to allow the muscles to relax.”
Pros: Soothing warmth helps to relax muscles and relieve pain, nongreasy, absorbs easily
Cons: Mild orange scent
The best natural muscle rub
Why you’ll love it: Made with all-natural ingredients, Noxicare Natural Pain Relief Cream offers gentle, soothing relief without parabens or glycol.
Noxicare Natural Pain Relief Cream contains natural ingredients for deeply penetrating pain relief. One of Noxicare’s main ingredients is turmeric extract, which is a known anti-inflammatory. In addition, the product contains willow bark extract, ginger extract, holy basil extract, rosemary extract, alpha lipoic acids, and boswellia extract. These natural ingredients work together to give this muscle rub both pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties.
This cream contains no parabens or glycol, the ingredients list is refreshingly simple, has no known side effects. It’s developed by Dr. Reza Ghorbani, a Harvard-trained doctor and board-certified interventional pain management specialist.
I’ve been using this cream for about two years and appreciate its gentle yet effective pain relief. I don’t feel it working immediately, but about 15 minutes after application I start to feel my hands and wrists relax. Noxicare doesn’t have the intense cooling or warming effects of other creams, but this is refreshing and advantageous. It seems to work gradually, but within an hour or so I do find that my wrists and hands are less painful and less stiff. Best of all, this cream has no odor, so it’s ideal for use when you’re working in an office or will be in a public place.
Please note that because of the turmeric, this cream can stain white or light-color fabrics. If the cream is massaged in thoroughly, I find it can help to prevent staining, but I wouldn’t advice applying this while wearing your favorite white garment.
Noxicare Natural Pain Relief Cream has a 3.8 out of 5-star Amazon rating based on 149 reviews. Moketye called this cream “the best” Another Amazon customer wrote, “It has no smell, no sudden hot feeling, but just calming down the pain as soon as it is applied with gentle cooling feeling.”
Pros: Completely odorless, all-natural ingredients, nongreasy
Cons: More expensive than some other muscle rubs, can stain fabrics
The best hemp muscle rub
Why you’ll love it: Dr. Sayman’s Wonder Rub has three powerful ingredients that work to offer effective pain relief.
Dr. Sayman’s Wonder Rub contains three potent ingredients that offer numbing, cooling, and anti-inflammatory properties for comprehensive pain relief. Lidocaine 4%, the maximum strength available without a prescription, helps to numb the pain associated with minor strains, arthritis, and muscle aches. Hemp oil helps to reduce inflammation, targeting the source of the pain. Lastly, arnica offers cooling and fast-acting relief. This unique combination makes for a powerful pain-relieving rub.
There are other benefits: It’s not greasy and has no odor. The 4-ounce tube goes a long way since you only need a bit for each application. The rub is easy to massage into your skin, and because it’s unscented, you can apply it anytime.
Dr. Sayman’s Wonder Rub has a 4.3 out of 5-star Amazon rating based on 14 reviews. Cynthia praised this rub’s fast-working action. Laura said, “I have disc issues in my back and neck as well as knee issues … lidocaine patches are one thing that works well for me so I thought I would give this rub a try. While the relief this gives me is not as long-lasting as a patch, it is relief without a strong smell and allows me to fall asleep, make trips to the store, or run errands without the amount of pain I am used to.”
Pros: Odorless, nongreasy, numbing, cooling, anti-inflammatory
Cons: Topical lidocaine can cause allergic reactions