Do you find your muscles sore and stiff after a tiring workout, a late night out, or a long day at work? If so, then you may need a muscle rub cream or gel.
The benefits of using a quality muscle rub product can be surprising. These include accelerating your performance and recovery time to stopping your joints and muscles from locking up–consequently reducing pain, stiffness, and inflammation.
But with the myriad muscle rub creams on the market, you may wonder which is best for your needs. After all, different brands have different uses.
Some creams treat minor muscle and joint pains, while others relieve skin irritation. There are also those that cause the skin to feel calm and warm for a soothing effect.
For today’s blog post, we listed some of the best muscle rub creams and gels to simplify your search.
So, let’s walk through the different options below to help you find one that best suits your needs. But first, let’s answer this question:
Do Muscle Creams or Gels Help with Healing and Recovery?
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Yes, they do.
While you won’t absorb as much of its ingredient or mineral skin route as oral administration, it is still more convenient and cost-effective. Moreover, this drug delivery avoids stomach issues and drug absorption difficulties.
A topical pain medication goes straight to the aching muscle, tendon, or joint. Compared to oral medications, muscle creams don’t need to work through your bloodstream to bring the pain-relieving effect to a specific area, such as a sore muscle.
It’s unclear what causes muscle soreness after a workout, but studies have shown that muscle damage may play a part. And some of the best pain relief creams or sports gels can potentially mitigate the damage and speed up recovery.
Muscle rub or pain relief creams work by creating a hot or cold sensation. These creams desensitize the nerve endings or cause temporary numbness so a person doesn’t feel pain.
A high-quality muscle gel or a pain-relieving cream can impact a person’s overall enjoyment of life without chronic pain. 
5 Best Muscle Rubs [For 2023]
1. CarnoSport Sports Gel – Best Overall Muscle Rub Gel
ChemiPower’s CarnoSport sports gel is the real deal if you want a muscle rub cream.
This sports gel is loaded with the soothing ingredient carnosine, which helps buffer muscle pH decline. Lactic acid accumulates in the muscles and lowers pH during muscle activity or moderate to high-intensity exercise. 
CarnoSport works by reducing the activity level in the muscles and maintaining their proper functioning. It also supports tendons, ligaments, and joints. It is also approved for use by all sports federations, regardless of difficulty level and competition type.
It is also developed with the Tartu University of Pharmacy scientists and the significant athlete’s communities to increase muscle performance, shorten downtime, and accelerate muscle recovery.
Since it is dermatologically tested, this product is also safe for your skin. To maximize results, apply it approximately 60 minutes before and after working for accelerated recovery.
Only use a small palmful of this product directly on targeted areas. You can also use it on sore muscles and dry skin.
Why We Picked It
- Accelerates muscle recovery and shortens downtime
- No side effects
- Improves muscle, tendon, ligament, and joint health
- Clean sport; doping-free
- Scientifically proven
- Developed in cooperation with and for professional athletes
- Lightweight formula
2. Boiron Arnicare Gel – Best Homeopathic Gel
This homeopathic gel contains Arnica montana 7%, an ingredient renowned for years for helping with swelling, bruising, and pain.
It takes a two-step approach to targeting muscle pain. First, it soothes the skin. Second, it calms the inflammation. Reviews about this product often mentioned that it is “handy” and suitable for post-surgery healing.
In addition, this product is water-based, paraben-free, non-scented, and comes in a gel form, like CarnoGel. However, it doesn’t provide a cooling or warming sensation that would reduce muscle damage after an exercise.
Being homeopathic, this muscle gel has no drug interactions or contraindications and a low risk of side effects.
Why We Picked It
- Plant-based active ingredient
- Lightweight formula
3. Salonpas Lidocaine Plus Pain Relieving Cream – Best for Pain Relief
Identified as one of the best brands of OTC topical analgesic patches, Salonpas Lidocaine Plus is our next product.
We included it here because it relieves muscle, back, and joint pain. It is backed by science, too and proven to be effective. However, you should only apply this product to normal intact skin, not irritated or broken skin.
Additionally, it contains maximum-strength lidocaine (4%) and benzyl alcohol, which numbs the nerves. Lidocaine is an anesthetic cream that prevents and treats pain. It also reduces calcium cation (Ca2+) to relax the airway of smooth muscle directly.
Such a metabolically active portion of calcium is a second messenger in muscles. As a result, this may activate a range of processes from activation to degradation of muscle cells.
Why We Picked It
- Numbs the nerves that cause pain
- Targets pain in the back, neck, and shoulders
- Contains maximum strength lidocaine
4. Aspercreme Lidocaine Cream – Best for Foot Pain
Similar to Salonpas Lidocaine Plus, this muscle cream also contains maximum-strength lidocaine to address minor foot pain. It likewise contains different moisturizers for dry, cracked skin.
Moreover, this product gained positive reviews on Amazon. Most users said their feet were visibly less dry after using this cream, while others spoke to its effectiveness for pain relief. It can also relieve pain from sciatica, heel spurs, and neuropathy.
The key ingredient in this product is a local anesthetic, which blocks the nerve’s ability to send pain signals to the brain. Remember, though, that you can overuse lidocaine content in this cream. So, you have to be mindful of the product labels.
Why We Picked It
- Non-greasy formula
- Effective pain reliever
5. Penetrex Pain Relief Cream – Best Soothing Non-Staining Cream
This effective pain relief cream for muscle is designed especially for runners. It contains a natural compound called arnica with other active compounds, including sesquiterpene lactones, with pain relief properties.
Moreover, this cream contains vitamin B6 to regulate the body’s fluid balance and improve nerve function. It is also infused with flavonoids, carotenoids, inulin, tannins, and essential oil thymol. These ingredients support healthy muscle and connective tissues, like the fascia, ligaments, and tendons.
While it may be more expensive than other pain relief creams or gels, it does its job in reducing inflammation at the root of the pain than masking it.
Why We Picked It
- Non-staining formula
- Arnica as its key ingredient
- Not overpowering scent
- Relieve muscle pain
How Should I Use Muscle Rubs?
Most pain relief creams or sports gels are applied to clean, dry, and unbroken skin. For safety precautions, it is best to do a patch test on a small area to avoid skin irritation or choose a dermatologically tested product.
These products relieve pain and muscle aches, while others stimulate blood flow to promote faster healing. Muscle rubs may offer a soothing, cooling relief to ease post-workout muscles.
However, avoid applying the muscle rub cream or gel to sensitive areas like the face, eyes, or genitals. Make sure to always wash your hands after using the product as well.
In most cases, cooling the area where you have strains and sprains with an ice pack or a deep freeze, depending on the injury, is the best way forward to healing. Doing this will ease the swelling and inflammation in the area that typically causes pain.
Once the inflammation and swelling subsided, you can follow it up by applying heat. This procedure is helpful if you have stiffness or tightness in an area.
3 Factors to Consider When Choosing the Best Muscle Rub Cream or Gel
You can use muscle rub creams or gels on aches and pains but never on open wounds, surgical sites, bruises, and acute injuries.
Remember that these topical muscle rubs don’t affect or treat the muscle tissues, which provide lasting relief, or heal the injury. However, it provides temporary relief and is more beneficial when combined with massage and the cooling or warming sensation.
In other words, a good muscle rub cream “distracts” the nervous system to offer relief.
When choosing the product, decide how it targets muscle aches or pain. Some function by increasing blood flow to the affected area. Meanwhile, others contain ingredients that create feelings of warmth and cold that block pain signals in the brain. Some also accelerate muscle recovery.
Consider the ingredients in the over-the-counter sports creams or gels you plan to buy.
Do the ingredients alleviate muscular or joint pain associated with sports-related problems, fatigue from physical activity, or age-related stiffness? If so, you may benefit from such a product.
Many muscle rubs nowadays provide a numbing or tingling feeling with a cool or warm sensation or both. Ingredients such as capsaicin (warming) and camphor (cooling) cause such feelings and may temporarily calm aches.
Sports gels are also specially formulated with key ingredients that improve muscle, tendons, joints, and ligaments’ health, providing more long-lasting effects.
A spot or patch test is one easy way to check if your skin will react adversely to a muscle cream or any skin product is by doing a spot or patch test.
All you have to do is apply the product to a less prominent part of the skin. Good areas include the elbow bend, or the arm’s inside. Apply the cream or gel to a quarter-sized skin patch to ensure you won’t have any allergic reaction to the ingredients once you apply it to the affected area.
Creams, Sprays, Gels, or Patches – What’s the Best?
Topical products for muscle aches come in different forms. Whether you choose creams, sprays, gels, or patches, it all comes down to personal preference.
But still, you should review the key ingredients in every product if you are searching for an easy-to-apply product. Therefore, a patch may be best if you apply it to a flat surface, such as the neck or back.
However, cream and gel may be your best choice for a sore knee or elbow, where the joint bends and moves. The gel is more effective for deep tissue work. It is also lighter, making it easy for the skin to absorb and suitable for targeting specific areas.
Don’t worry if you still haven’t made your choice. We can guarantee that each product in the list contains quality ingredients and typically works well when applied to the muscles.
Best Alternatives: Home Remedies For Muscle Aches and Tiredness
If you’re looking for home remedies to alleviate fatigue and reduce physical discomfort, try the following:
- Cold therapy (applying ice at the onset of pain)
- Heat therapy (heat wraps to soothe sore muscles)
- Walking and swimming
- Doing shoulder rolls and arm exercises to calm down shoulder pain
- Compression bandage
- Carefully stretching out the affected muscles
- Doing activities that reduce stress and encourage relaxation 
When to See a Doctor
As much as most muscle rub creams help with minor aches, don’t use them for more extended periods than directed. Doing so may result in a rash or a chemical burn. Also, stop using the product if the target area becomes irritated or your condition worsens.
If your stubborn pain persists, it may be best to talk with your doctor to resolve it.
Muscle aches, pain, and swelling can prevent an otherwise beautiful day. Sometimes, these symptoms linger for weeks, months, or a year.
Luckily, many muscle rub creams, gels, and medications are available to ease the pain and inflammation. Whether you’re planning to buy a muscle rub cream or gel to relieve painful joints or sore, aching muscles, these over-the-counter products we listed above are worth considering.
Disclaimer: This article is not a substitute for professional healthcare or medical advice. However, they are non-prescription (OTC) products. So, they are generally safe and effective if you follow the label’s directions or your doctor’s.
Give your muscles, joints, and tendons the relief they need after intense training or a long day at work. Pick CarnoSport as the best muscle recovery gel.
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