The 5 Best Muscle Rubs to Try in 2021

The 5 Best Muscle Rubs to Try in 2021

You went big during your workout, and it felt great — but tomorrow, it might not. By now, we all know that soreness is not a sign of a good workout. It just means that you went too hard. But even if you’re doing all the right recovery methods to reduce and help prevent muscle soreness, it still happens occasionally. Since soreness isn’t a badge of honor, there’s no reason to suffer through it unnecessarily. That’s where muscle rubs can help.

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When to Use a Muscle Rub

If you know things got a little intense in your last sweat session, reach for the muscle rub “post-workout as a preventative for any problem area or any area that feels like it’s tight or sore,” suggests Theresa Marko, PT, DPT, MS, a doctor of physical therapy and owner of Marko Physical Therapy in New York City.

That means there’s no reason to wait for leg day soreness to set in before slathering it on.

But know this: It’s time to put down the muscle rub and see a physical therapist “if the pain is persistent after a couple of days,” says Marko. Tune in to the kind of pain you’re feeling, too. Dull aches and soreness are OK to treat with a muscle rub and stretching. But when your pain is sharp, searing, or keeping you up at night, “these are signs it’s more severe.”

If you’re experiencing any of these, Marko advises to “go see your physical therapist ASAP.”

 

The Best Muscle Rub Overall

The best muscle rub of 2021 (or any time) is the one that you’ll like and use and that helps your muscles. Marko suggests looking for certain ingredients that soothe muscles.

Here are some commonly used active ingredients:

  • If you see camphor or menthol, expect a cooling sensation.
  • Capsaicin, the compound that gives peppers their fiery kick, will make a muscle rub feel warm.
  • Some muscle rubs also boast methyl salicylate, a topical analgesic that has effects similar to aspirin.

Reminder: Always wash your hands after using any muscle rub to avoid getting that hot or cool sensation in your eyes — or in a sensitive area! That’s a mistake you won’t want to repeat.

1. Rock Sauce Fiery Hot Pain Relief Cream

rocksauce muscle rub | best muscle rubs

This roll-on muscle rub gets Marko’s stamp of approval because “it works, and you don’t have to get it all over your hands, and inadvertently touch your eyes.” The hot-then-cool feeling comes from the menthol and capsaicin used in the formula. Methyl salicylate in their formula can also help ease soreness.

Available on Amazon.

2. Tiger Balm Pain Relieving Red Extra Strength Ointment

tiger balm muscle rub | best muscle rubs

Tiger Balm uses menthol and camphor as active ingredients in its formula, which is why it also gets a nod from Marko. These ingredients mean you’ll feel the tingling, cooling sensation as it soaks in and goes to work. It gets extra fragrance and warmth from cajuput, cassia (cinnamon), and clove oils.

Available on Amazon.

3. Bengay Ultra-Strength Pain Relief Cream

bengay muscle rub | best muscle rubs

Don’t count out the old school options. Like Tiger Balm, Bengay uses both menthol and camphor to give that muscle-relaxing tingle as it starts easing kinks. Marko gives it a nod, and the non-greasy formula makes it easy to combine with other products to relieve sore muscles like foam rollers and trigger point therapy tools. This formula also uses methyl salicylate.

If you’d rather opt for a pain relief patch over a muscle rub, Bengay also makes them with the same active ingredients. Even better, a study found that one eight-hour session wearing a patch with menthol and methyl salicylate significantly relieved pain from mild to moderate muscle strain compared to a placebo.

Available on Amazon.

4. Biofreeze Pain Relief Roll-On

biofreeze muscle rub | best muscle rubs

This roll-on pain reliever not only features cooling menthol but also boasts over 9,000 five-star reviews on Amazon. If a roll-on isn’t for you, the same brand makes topical gels and creams in an assortment of sizes and applications.

Available on Amazon.

5. Resilience CBD Sports Cream

resilience muscle rub | best muscle rubs

This muscle rub contains full-spectrum CBD, “which many people report helps joints and muscles,” says Marko. To be clear, scientific research on pain relief from CBD in humans is lacking. (Studies on rats are promising, but we’re not rats.) Still, if you’re into CBD and willing to give a muscle rub with this trendy ingredient a go, this formula also has menthol and camphor for that cooling sensation.

Available from Resilience CBD.

About

Linnea Zielinski is a writer specializing in nutrition, wellness, food, and fitness. She was previously the site director at Eat This, Not That! and her work has appeared on MSN, The Huffington Post, Yahoo Health, Refinery29, and Serious Eats. She prefers weight lifting to cardio, swears by CBD massages and dry shampoo, and blogs about living a drama-free life in her spare time.

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