Muscle Rubs

Sunday, 1 November 2009 | Tags: , , , ,

Whether you're active in sports or have a labour-intensive job or hobby, you're bound to experience sore muscles at some point. We take a look at muscle rubs that promise relief to find out if they really work.

The Basics

  • There are several active ingredients used in muscle rubs:

    • Salicylate is a close relative to aspirin and can actually help reduce any muscular inflammation that is causing the pain.

    • Counterirritants are a popular form of topical analgesic. Typically menthol or camphor are the active ingredient, which masks pain with heat or coolness.

    • Capsaicin, from hot peppers, works by disrupting pain signals to the brain. But it doesn’t penetrate to the muscles and tend to work best on joints close to the skin’s surface, such as fingers, knees and elbows. They can also cause a strong burning sensation on the skin.

    • Glucosamine and Chondroitin have proven popular when taken orally. There is a debate whether they can actually relieve muscle pain when applied topically.

  • Muscle rubs feel hot or cold. That sensation offers a distraction from muscle pain. They’re not really affecting the muscle itself. 

  • Rubs can be liquid form with sponge applicators, creams, thicker balms, gels, sticks and roll-ons.

Other Considerations

  • Patches work similar to rubs by creating heat or cool sensations, but are worn right over the affected area for several hours under your clothing and offer a greaseless, odourless alternative.


With the help of some hardcore rugby players (men and women) we tested out these different muscle rubs to see what kind of relief they offered.

We tested: .  
  • Rub A535 Ice (Active ingredient: menthol): $4.99
. . Well.ca
  • Heet (Active ingredient: salicylate): $5.99
. . Drugstore.com
  • Absorbine Jr. (Active ingredient: menthol): $5.49
. . Well.ca Drugstore.com
  • Rub A535 Heat (Active ingredient: methyl salicylate): $6.29
. . Well.ca
  • Tiger Balm (Active ingredient: mint, menthol and camphor): $6.99
. . Well.ca Drugstore.com

(Note: prices listed above are approximate and in Canadian dollars)

Relief Test

  • Everyone found the Absorbine Jr. (liquid with sponge applicator) to be messy. Plus, if it dripped into an area of the body with mucous membranes, it could be painful.

  • A535 (Ice or Heat) was voted easiest and neatest to apply.

  • Most testers found the Tiger Balm lasted longest and had the least offensive odour.

  • Others found Heet gave good relief.


We went with the majority and chose Tiger Balm as our top pick for its longevity and least-offensive fragrance.



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