The 6 Best Muscle Pain Relief Creams & Gels

By Marissa DeSantis

There's nothing quite like starting your day off with an aching back or leg muscles that are practically screaming in pain from yesterday's workout (or whatever caused your achy muscles). When soreness occurs, you want to have one of the best muscle pain relief creams on hand so you can soothe your aches immediately.

Though there are many ointments, gels, creams, and even patches out there, many of which work the same way. Counterirritant ingredients like menthol and camphor produce cool and hot sensations. This provides temporary relief because the cold and warmth block pain signals from traveling to your brain. While the relief is only temporary, because you're treating the pain topically as opposed to popping an aspirin, the results are nearly instant. Plus, the act of massaging the product into the skin helps to increase blood flow, which in turn promotes healing and relaxes muscles.

Another popular ingredient in muscle pain relief creams and gels is methyl salicylate, which is a counterirritant and a pain reliever whose structural properties are actually similar to aspirin. While some common ingredients like menthol and arnica are plant-based, many of these creams still contain additional ingredients meant for pain relief, which means they shouldn't be used every day for long periods of time – especially if you're trying to mask the pain of a more serious injury. And just as important, make sure to read and follow each one's individual directions.

Ahead, here are some of the best muscle pain relief creams, whether you're in need of a post-workout treatment or relief from minor joint pain and stiffness.

1. The Best Pain Relief Gel

A favorite among dancers like New York City Ballet's Sara Mearns, Tiger Balm was a longtime staple in my own dance bag growing up. The new Active Muscle Gel formula was designed to help relieve tired and achy muscles after you work out. Since it's a gel, it's less greasy than a traditional balm or cream formula, and it can be applied more easily over larger muscles. Like Tiger Balm's classic ointment (which is also incredibly effective for pain relief), the gel contains menthol to give a cool then hot sensation on muscles, and it's formulated with methyl salicylate for easing aches and pains.

2.  A Natural Pain Relief Cream

Made with natural botanical ingredients like arnica, for pain relief, and sunflower oil to moisturize skin, Kneipp's cream formula soothes sore muscles, relieves achy joints and can even help reduce inflammation and bruising. The formula is not pore-clogging, so you can use it anywhere (including on your back, without the risk of breakouts), vegan, and free of icky synthetic ingredients like parabens, preservatives, and mineral oil. It absorbs into skin without leaving behind any sticky or greasy residue, and can also be used on bug bites to help quell swelling.

3. The Best Roll-On Pain Relief Gel

This 3-ounce roll-on gel is perfect for traveling or storing in your gym bag without having to worry about spills. It also means a no-mess application if you're on-the-go and don't have time to massage a traditional cream onto your sore muscles. The BioFreeze Pain Relief Roll-On Gel uses menthol to hit sore muscles with a cooling sensation that blocks pain signals. Effective at relieving sore muscles, backaches, sore joints, and arthritis, the brand also boasts that it's the number-one clinically-recommended topical pain relief brand.

Many Amazon users note that they tried BioFreeze at the recommendation of a chiropractor or nurse aid, and they noticed an instant relief. One writes, "For anyone who has pain of any type, this will be your best friend. I suffer from severe sciatica nerve pain, [and] BioFreeze helped me control the pain."

4. An Organic Way To Relieve Sore Muscles

If you're concerned about the ingredients in your muscle relief cream, Dr. Bronner's Arnica-Menthol Balm is free of synthetic ingredients and it's certified organic, to boot. A blend of arnica, camphor, menthol, and peppermint oils helps to soothe aches and pains, while organic beeswax and oils like avocado, coconut, olive, jojoba, and hemp moisturize the skin. Because of this, it's actually a multi-purpose balm that can be used to treat dry hands and cuticles, and even help heal skin that's just been tattooed.

5. Best Pain Relief Gel Minus The Scent

Most pain-relieving creams have a telltale smell that's equal parts strong and unpleasant. Icy Hot Vanishing Scent is a gel formula whose menthol scent dissipates within minutes after application. The tube comes with a sponge applicator to keep your hands from getting messy, and it can be used several times a day to relieve pain from arthritis, backaches, muscle strains, sprains, bruises, and cramps.

6. Best Imported Salve For Pain Relief

One Bustle beauty editor found this pain-relieving salve while on a trip to Germany and swears by it. Amazon users also rave that the Apothekers Origin salve works quickly and doesn't stain clothes or smell too strongly. Since the EU has stricter laws when it comes to ingredients used in skin care products, this formula is made with all natural plant-based ingredients, like valerian, camphor, peppermint, and arnica, and no synthetic chemicals. This also gives it a less intense and more pleasant forest-like scent. One reviewer who has been using the salve for 25 years calls it the "best product ever" and writes, "It's a miracle for aches, pain, joints, and arthritis … no greasiness and no strong odor." Another fan called it a "miracle in a jar."

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