Muscle Rubs Should Be A Part Of Your Post-Workout Recovery Routine

·4 min read
Photo credit: Sergey Mironov - Getty Images
Photo credit: Sergey Mironov - Getty Images

Ahh, that sweet, relaxing moment after you lather up your body. Now imagine getting sore muscles in on the self-care love too. Enter: muscle rubs and recovery balms.

Featuring a mix of familiar ingredients such as menthol, magnesium, turmeric, and sometimes CBD, these creams promise quick relief when applied to achy areas so you can, in theory, bounce back from a tough workout faster. Sounds pretty good, ya?

Full transparency: Recovery balms are not well studied, and we need more research to know whether the actives in them really work. But some elements may bring anti-pain perks.

Meet the experts: Robert Griffin, MD, PhD, is an anesthesiologist at Hospital for Special Surgery. He specializes in treating different kinds of pain and sports injury.

Sherry Yafai, MD, is an emergency physician who runs her private cannabis clinic, the Releaf Institute.

Does muscle rub really help with healing and recovery?

It’s not completely clear what causes post-workout soreness, but research suggests muscle damage may play a part, and magnesium can potentially mitigate that. One note: You probably won’t absorb as much of the mineral by going the skin route vs. oral. There isn’t conclusive research on magnesium delivered in cream form, buuuut…it doesn’t hurt to try one. (And the massage while applying might feel good in itself!)

Where does that leave you if you’re feeling the burn after going all out in the gym? You should be back to normal after a day or two without intervention, says Robert Griffin, MD, PhD, an anesthesiologist at Hospital for Special Surgery. If soreness lingers, he recommends foam-rolling or light exercise, like walking.

What is the best cream for muscle recovery?

A common ingredient is menthol, which produces a cooling sensation that distracts from the discomfort. Turmeric and CBD (both known to have anti-inflammatory properties) may also ease joint pain caused by arthritis, preliminary studies show.

Look for balms with those ingredients for your best soothing chance. And remember, they’re not regulated by the FDA. As a general safety rule, check the label and/or website to confirm the product is free of pesticides or heavy metals, says emergency physician Sherry Yafai, MD.

Arnica, a popular ingredient, has gotten a rep for quelling inflammation—but newer research debunked that claim (whomp!). A CBD gel, though, may have some benefit in putting out the fire, early studies suggest. All that said, if these items make you feel better after a tough feat, keep going! But pair with science-backed methods like massage, cold water immersion, and compression.

If you're new to recovery balms and don't know which one you'd like, here are the top-rated products online for different preferences.

1. Best for Cooling Relief: Biofreeze Pain Relief Roll-On

It's called a muscle rub/balm, but it doesn't just come in a cream form. This roll-on option offers a mess-free application, and it can be stashed in your gym bag for post-workout pain relief whenever you need it. If you're partial to cold for recovery, you'll love the numbing effects it provides with menthol.

2. Best for Warming Relief: Rock Sauce Fire Fiery Hot Pain Relief

Some like it hot, and this is a solid choice if that rings true for you. Made with methyl salicylate, menthol, and capsaicin, it melts away soreness with heat for hours. It works with the brand's kinesiology tape, but it can also be used alone.

3. Best for Sensitive Skin: Himalayan Botanique Warming Body Balm

Certified USDA organic, this lotion is made with all natural ingredients, including eucalyptus and rosemary leaf oil for heating relief and coconut oil and vitamin E for moisture. No artificial fragrance or other irritating chemicals are added, so you don't have to worry about getting bad skin reactions.

4. Best Arnica Cream: Penetrex Intensive Concentrate Cream

Not a fan of extreme sensations and just want plain and simple pain relief? Give this Penetrex cream a shot. It has a mild scent, and it's not greasy or sticky. It combines arnica, vitamin B6, and MSM to soothe joint and muscle aches.

5. Best Muscle Rub with CBD: Cornbread Full Spectrum CBD Balm

It's important to choose a CBD balm that has been tested by a third party. How do you know that? You'll usually find a lab report on the product page like this rub. You can apply it without hesitation knowing that it's been evaluated for safety and its formula contains only organic compounds. And besides CBD, the pain-busting power of this topical comes from peppermint and arnica oil.

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