Top 11 Pain Relief Creams to Try in 2024

11 June 2024 2499
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Most of us, at some points in our lives, have gone through bodily pain or ache. The cause could be an injury, a bout of arthritis, stress, tension, or something entirely different. During such times, we all wish for a rapid relief from the pain. Deciding on the best pain relief cream could be the last thing on your mind when you are in much discomfort.

Owais Durrani, D.O., an experienced emergency medicine physician from Houston, Texas, explains, 'Different ingredients work differently to provide relief. Some reduce inflammation to alleviate pain, while others alter your body's process of feeling pain.' Pain relief creams come in various forms: some use heat, others give a cooling effect; they are available as gels or thick creams; and have a variety of scents, from minty to fragrance-free. Our aim was to help you in your choice of the most suitable pain relief cream. To achieve this, we tested numerous options, consulted with a dermatologist, and reached out to an emergency medicine physician. Consequently, we have compiled a list of only the best pain relief creams available in the market, ensuring that there is one to suit everyone's preference.

Icy Hot Pro Cream, packed with Micro Spheres, offers a quick solution when you need a topical pain relief cream. It belongs to a category of products called counterirritants, which use sensations like warming or cooling to offset pain and distract you from muscle aches or strains. Icy Hot Cream contains 11% camphor and 16% menthol – common counterirritants used for pain relief. Its effectiveness and speed are further boosted by these high percentages of active ingredients. In addition, you can use this product for relieving joint pains, sprains, bruises, and arthritis. Also, the microspheres are packed with jojoba oil to ensure your skin remains smooth, hydrated, and pain-free alongside.

Size: 2 oz | Active Ingredient: Menthol, Camphor and Jojoba Oil

Dr. Durrani often recommends diclofenac gel (Voltaren) to patients suffering from arthritis pain in their joints. He explains, “Voltaren is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) which is applied topically, and therefore, has fewer systemic side effects compared to oral versions.” NSAIDs are known for their capabilities of reducing inflammation, fever, and pain. While aspirin and ibuprofen are well-known NSAIDs in pill form, here it’s present in a topical formulation. Keep in mind, to experience the full effects of Voltaren, you are required to apply it up to four times a day for 21 days.

Size: 5.3 oz | Active Ingredient: Diclofenac

This formula, although pricier than others, promises more than just a medicated product; it's also a self-care treat. It's created by Indie Lee, a clean skincare brand, and is excellent for soothing muscle aches. It's particularly useful when applied on tension-prone areas like the neck and shoulders. The formula comprises black pepper, menthol oils, and eucalyptus that create a hot and cold effect. It also includes arnica, lavender, and patchouli essential oils for a more spa-like, relaxing experience.

Size: 2.4 oz | Active Ingredient: Black Pepper, Menthol Oils, Eucalyptus, Lavender and Patchouli Essential Oils

Lidocaine, an ingredient found in products like this one, is a local anesthetic that blocks pain signals from reaching the brain by obstructing the nerves where the product is applied. Dr. Durrani recommends lidocaine-based products for strains and sprains in flat areas like the lower back. It also comes with a mess-free roll-on application and works like a massage on the affected area. To emphasize its effectiveness, Rebecca Marcus, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of MaeiMD says, “A numbing agent like Lidocaine probably provides the most effective localized pain relief.”

Size: 2.5 oz | Active Ingredient: Lidocaine

Tiger Balm is famous for its cooling properties, thanks to its menthol content. Dr. Durrani informs that this balm belongs to a group of counterirritants, which include products with menthol or camphor. “They create a hot or cold sensation on the skin, briefly drawing attention away from pain by causing a less severe discomfort to counteract the intense pain,” he explains. Tiger Balm has equal parts of menthol and camphor which are believed to increase circulation, thus accelerating healing and reducing inflammation.

Size: 1.7 oz | Active Ingredient: Menthol and Camphor

Like Tiger Balm, the Sombra Warm Pain Relief Gel also contains camphor and menthol for a cooling effect to divert your attention from the pain. It also contains capsaicin, a natural pain reliever derived from chili peppers that delivers a warming sensation on contact. Dr. Durrani explains that you will feel it warming your skin and sometimes even experience a burning sensation that triggers pain relief. If you have an aversion to overly minty smells, this might be a better choice for you because it has an orange aroma instead. 

Size: 8 oz | Active Ingredient: Capsaicin, Camphor, and Menthol

This pain relief formula is menthol-based which will give you that icy fresh feeling, yet, because it’s housed in an aerosol spray, you’ll experience an even chillier sensation when the cool mist hits your skin. We love that it’s in a spray format because it makes it easier to get hard-to-reach areas, like your shoulders and back. Applying this product is simple: just spray, let it dry, and feel your pain slip away. 

Size: 3 oz | Active Ingredient: Menthol

This is the cream for you if you prefer a thick consistency over a lightweight gel. What we love about this product, in particular, is its ingredients list, which is different than what you’ll find in most products on this list, featuring packs of a natural trio of inflammation-fighting arnica, vitamin B6, and MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) for deep penetration and pain relief in the joints and muscles. We were sold on its hundreds of positive reviews from customers (including nurses!) who’ve experienced everything from surgeries to chronic conditions and couldn’t sing high enough praise for this cream.

Size: 2 oz | Active Ingredient: Arnica, Vitamin B6, MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane)

For those who can’t stand slathering on lotions, balms, and creams, these patches are the pain relief option for you. These are so easy to use—just slap on a patch right where you need it and go about your day without worrying whether or not your clothes are a) getting ruined or b) wiping away the cream that I so desperately need to work. Our writer has used these patches on different areas, including her knees, back, and neck, and completely forgot she was wearing them, not to mention felt pain relief.

Size: 5, 5.5” x 3.94” patches | Active Ingredient: Menthol

If texture is important to you and you’d prefer a balm consistency over a pain relief cream, Dr. Bronner’s Organic Magic Balm fits the bill. The natural formula relies on menthol and peppermint oils for cooling, with arnica and camphor to fight inflammation. The balm consistency comes from organic beeswax and has a trio of jojoba, avocado, and hemp oils that moisturize skin. It can be used on joint and muscle aches, but we’ve found relief when using it on eczema and even bug bites. 

Size: 2 oz | Active Ingredient: Arnica, Camphor, Menthol and Peppermint Oils

This is the best pain relief cream for athletes whose muscle aches go beyond a little post-Peloton soreness. It is considered a salicylate cream, explains Dr. Durrani, because it has methyl salicylate, which is similar to the active ingredient in aspirin. “It functions similarly to oral aspirin products, offering pain relief.” As for how it works, he says that they’re absorbed directly through the skin, “potentially providing faster relief due to this direct delivery.” It also packs trusty camphor, menthol, and methyl salicylate for a three-pronged pain-relieving approach.

Size: 2, 4 oz | Active Ingredient: Methyl Salicylate, Camphor, and Menthol 

Shape contributor Lisa DeSantis is a beauty journalist with ten years of experience in the industry. She is a self-proclaimed 'guinea pig' when it comes to testing beauty and wellness products and treatments, which helps her determine which products stand out. She also prides herself on whatever the newest and trendiest workout is, which has led to her fair share of muscle soreness and ultimately helped her research the best pain relief creams for this piece. She used the following experts for additional insight for this roundup: