Best Pain Relief Creams

Updated November 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

23 Models Considered
7 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
398 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best pain relief creams

Last Updated November 2019

If you’re looking for a solution to keep everyday aches and pains at bay, it’s time to pick up a pain relief cream. Specially formulated to reduce inflammation and ease chronic pain, these creams provide relief and a soothing sensation while they work.

Pain relief creams have active ingredients, including menthol, that work together to treat aches and pains transdermally. The cream is applied to the affected area, and once it’s absorbed by the skin, an ongoing soothing sensation targets the pain. While these creams don’t prevent or stop pain long term, they’re helpful in the daily management of your condition. They’re ideal for individuals looking for topical relief, as well as those who try to stay away from oral pain relievers. If you’re trying to manage pain more holistically, there are pain relief creams that are made with all-natural ingredients that are non-GMO and free of parabens.

It’s time to introduce some pain relief cream into your pain management routine so you can work, play, or relax more comfortably. Read our buying guide and check out our recommendations to learn about the features and benefits so you can choose a cream that works for you.

Go over the pain relief cream’s ingredients before using it, especially if you have skin allergies or sensitive skin.

Key considerations

Who benefits from pain relief cream

Pain relief cream isn’t just for elders and athletes; it’s for anyone who experiences chronic pain, sustains sports injuries, or wants to get away from taking oral pain medication. It’s especially popular for treating the inflammation associated with arthritis, joint pain, and backache.

Some physical therapy offices, chiropractors, and pain management physicians also embrace cream as a less invasive treatment for patients. Pain relief cream is also used by those who are weight training because it provides relief to muscles while they heal between workouts. Individuals who suffer from fibromyalgia may find pain relief cream helpful, especially in their most affected areas.

How to use pain relief cream

Pain relief cream is applied and rubbed into the site of pain so it can be absorbed through the skin. It begins working within minutes to an hour after application, and its therapeutic effect lasts anywhere between a few and 24 hours. Some creams require reapplication two to three times a day, whereas others recommend only using it once a day. In some cases, pain relief cream is applied and then the area is wrapped with a bandage to ensure the product is absorbed through the skin.

Factors to keep in mind

Residue: Some pain relief cream has an oily, sticky consistency that easily transfers to surfaces. There are residue-free and greaseless formulas, though these still end up on clothing and surfaces to some extent. While most of the creams are clear, they contain oils, so they could permanently stain fabrics. If you want to avoid getting it anywhere except on your body, apply the cream to the affected area and wear an old T-shirt or cover the area with a towel until it’s fully absorbed.

Odor: Some pain relief creams have a strong, unpleasant odor. While there are many formulas with pleasant fragrances, the underlying medicinal odor is still present. It could be bothersome to those around you, especially at work, so you may want to opt for an odorless formula instead. These are harder to find and somewhat more expensive, but it does eliminate the noticeable smell.

Extended use: There are mixed reviews about using pain relief creams over the long term. Some people feel if you need it on a regular basis, you should seek medical attention to manage a condition that serious. Others feel the cream, especially an all-natural formula, is an alternative to invasive treatment and pain management.

Discreet option for busy people

If you want the most effective all-natural formula, this cream is a cut above the rest. Made in the USA and featuring the highest-quality ingredients, it’s free of GMOs, parabens, SLS, and color, sticking to the bare essentials to provide relief. As it’s non-greasy, residue-free, and colorless, it’s easy to use this pain relief cream discreetly, even at the office. This fact-acting solution works within minutes to provide quick relief so you can get back to the activities you enjoy.

Pain relief cream features

Ingredients

Menthol is by far the most popular ingredient in pain relief creams. It provides a cooling sensation that soothes and masks pain. As for what else you’ll find in pain relief creams, there’s a broad range of ingredients. Emu oil, hemp, aloe vera, camphor, and methyl salicylate make their appearance in different creams because each contains properties that boost pain relief. Other popular ingredients are moisturizing agents, like oil or shea butter, which prevent skin from drying out even with frequent application.

If you’re looking for a more natural formula, there are pain relief creams that are non-GMO, free of parabens, and odorless. There are also formulas designed for sensitive skin, which include a greater concentration of moisturizers and irritation-free ingredients. As far as ethical sourcing goes, some pain relief creams have won approval or awards for their high standards, and it’s usually front and center on their packaging.

Containers

Pain relief creams come in different containers, with some easier and less messy to use than others.

Pump bottles: These dispensers are easy to use, especially for anyone with dexterity issues. A pump is as mess-free as a dispenser can get, and you usually get uniform amounts of cream with each pump.

Tubs and jars: These are popular containers for pain relief creams. While they’re easy to open, they’re not the most sanitary, because you’re placing your hand inside the product each time you use it, which means you could be transferring dirt or bacteria each time. It’s also harder to measure how much product you use unless you use a measuring spoon.

Tubes: Some pain relief creams come in tubes, especially travel-size versions of the product. It’s easy to get the product out of the tubes, but it could get messy if too much squirts out at once. Unfortunately, that’s common for these types of containers. Because pain relief cream tends to be pricey, you might want to think twice about getting it in a tube, as you might end up wasting product by accident.

EXPERT TIP

Wash your hands thoroughly after applying pain relief cream, especially before touching your eyes or face.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Keep a travel-size container of pain relief cream in your gym bag to apply after grueling training sessions.


Staff  | BestReviews

Pain relief cream prices

Most pain relief creams cost between $6 and $50, depending on the quality of the ingredients and how quickly they provide relief.

Inexpensive: If you’re on a budget, there are decent pain relief creams that cost between $6 and $15. Bottles in this price range are on the smaller side, and the creams may not offer the dramatic results of premium or clinical creams.

Mid-range: These pain relief creams cost between $15 and $30. You get a moderately sized bottle or tube, and these creams contain unique ingredients that boost their pain relief capabilities.

Expensive: If you’re willing to pay a premium for pain relief cream, about $30 to $50, you’ll get near-clinical-strength formulas. These work faster and last longer than the less expensive creams, plus the odors tend to be less intense. These creams are often manufactured by boutique or emerging brands, so information on them can be limited.

If you plan on applying pain relief cream at work or school, opt for one that doesn’t have a strong smell. The odor can be off-putting to colleagues, and some people get headaches from the smell.

Tips

  • Pay attention to the cooling sensation. If it feels like the cooling sensation has entered burn territory, remove the cream immediately with soap and water, taking a shower if need be.
  • Keep the cream in a cool, dry place. Especially for preservative-free pain relief creams, keep the container in a cool, dry place, like a closet or bathroom vanity, so it stays at room temperature.
  • Keep the cream away from your hairline. If you’re applying pain relief cream to your neck and shoulders and have long hair, put your hair up in a bun and pin any stray hairs away from the application area.
  • Use cream if you’re an intense gamer or typist. If gaming or typing is a big part of your life, use pain relief cream to keep soreness to a minimum, especially if you suffer from arthritis, tendonitis, or carpal tunnel syndrome.

Cool, long-lasting relief

This pain relief cream treats a multitude of ailments. It’s well liked by those who suffer from arthritis and fibromyalgia because it penetrates to relieve intense flare-ups and inflammation. If you suffer from colds or chest congestion, the cream is gentle enough to apply to the neck, forehead, and chest without causing irritation. A little goes a long way, so the 3.5-ounce tub is sure to last longer than comparable formulas. Best of all, this formula has a greaseless lotion base, so it won’t transfer residue to clothing or furniture.

Other products we considered

For budget-friendly pain relief, we like BENGAY Ultra-Strength Topical Analgesic Cream. A reliable cream from an established brand in pain relief products, this one is ideal for treating sore muscles, strains, arthritis, sprains, and backaches. Its effectiveness is attributed to its winning combination of ingredients, including camphor, menthol, and methyl salicylate. The non-greasy cream is easy to apply, and you don’t need to worry about staining clothes or leaving residue on furniture.

If you’d like to get as close to clinical strength as possible in an OTC product, choose the Biofreeze Pain Relief Cream. This formula is a favorite among physical therapists, pharmacists, and athletic trainers for its fast-acting, long-lasting relief. Menthol gives the cream its soothing, cooling effect as it provides deep-penetrating relief to affected areas. If you have to bring pain relief cream on a trip, you’ll be glad to know this 3-ounce container is TSA approved for carry-on luggage.

Pain relief cream is a temporary solution. If you’re experiencing long-term pain issues, you should speak with your doctor about your condition to explore other treatment options.

FAQ

Q. Will pain relief cream dry out my skin?
A.
Certain ingredients found in pain relief cream have a side effect of drying skin, which is why most formulas include moisturizers to combat it. If you have sunburned skin or suffer from acne, pain relief cream will cause the condition to worsen because it activates on broken skin and could cause pain and redness and excessive dryness.
 

Q. Can I use pain relief cream on my face or forehead for headaches/migraines?
A.
No, pain relief cream is not formulated for use on the face. In fact, its combination of ingredients is likely too harsh for facial skin and could cause inflammation or irritation. Applying the cream to your forehead and temples wouldn’t be effective for treating a headache or migraine; however, you may experience some tension relief if you apply it to the back of your neck and shoulders.

The team that worked on this review
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Ciera
    Ciera
    Digital Content Producer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Sian
    Sian
    Writer

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