Part of effective recovery is making sure that your muscles are getting good blood flow. This will get oxygen to those muscles and help repair them.
Compression gear and foam rolling can help, but a muscle massage is another effective way to get the circulation going.
Using one of the best muscle rubs for runners can make a massage even more effective. You can use something that’s not specifically designed for this purpose, but it may be less effective and won’t have the useful properties these muscle rubs have.
Muscle rubs use a unique combination of ingredients to heal and stimulate. Some might also help reduce any pain your feeling from inflammation.
Our first choice is Biofreeze Cool the Pain Gel, as it’s easy to apply, won’t stain clothing, and provides fast-acting pain relief to targeted areas.
Browse through our list to find the one you like, and get ready for better recovery and improved performance!
Top 3 Best and Favourites
Biofreeze Cool The Pain Gel
Sombra Warm Therapy Natural Pain Relieving Gel
Tiger Balm Active Muscle Rub
Best Cooling Gel
1. Biofreeze Cool The Pain Gel
Biofreeze Cool the Pain gel comes in a pump-action bottle, which is perfect for no-mess application. The gel itself is light and non-greasy, so there’s not much chance of it getting too messy or sticky.
This product uses menthol as its main ingredient, which creates a cooling effect. This helps the muscles to work the tension out more easily, especially when being rubbed. It does this by blocking pain receptors in the brain, even though you’re rubbing it onto the sore muscle.
Menthol also has antispasmodic, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory properties. When applied locally, it should relieve pain enough for the muscles to relax so that knots can be worked out.
This gel is fast-acting, and it’s free from parabens, propylene glycol, and NSAIDs, making it a safe, non-drug solution to muscle pain. It’s also light enough that it shouldn’t stain your clothing, so you don’t need to worry about accidentally getting some on your clothes while you’re rubbing.
With 4% menthol, you can apply it to your skin anywhere on your body for relief. You can also get this in a roll-on.
Some people may find the menthol smell to be overwhelming, as it is quite strong.
- Easy to apply
- Free of NSAIDs, parabens and propylene glycol
- Won’t stain clothing
- It has a very strong menthol smell that some people may find off-putting
Top Warming Gel
2. Sombra Warm Therapy Natural Pain Relieving Gel
Cooling gel is one way to relieve muscle pain. The other way is warming gel. Some runners may prefer the feeling of one or the other, so it’s a good idea to check which one works best for you.
Camphor and menthol are the two active ingredients in this gel. Both camphor and menthol are known to create cooling sensations, but camphor also creates warming sensations.
When you apply this gel, it may initially feel cool. After a few minutes, it should change to a warming feeling.
You can speed up the warmth by massaging, as friction increases the warmth. There is also witch hazel in this product, which warms the skin, and capsaicin, which relieves pain (it’s also the compound that makes peppers hot. Did we mention the warmth?).
The gel absorbs quickly into the skin and gets to work in just a few minutes. It’s non-greasy, non-staining, and contains no oils or artificial colors that could absorb into the skin.
This gel is stronger than others. If you have been using a different one, start slowly with this one or you may put too much on. Too much heat = burning, and burning is no way to improve a massage.
- Uses botanical extracts and natural ingredients
- Absorbs quickly
- Contains no waxes, oils or artificial colors
- Non-greasy and non-staining
- If you use too much it can create a burning feeling
3. Tiger Balm Active Muscle Rub
Tiger Balm has been around for years and is known to be a good pain reliever. It’s an effective counter-irritant that uses cooling sensations to essentially distract your brain from the pain so that your muscles can ease up.
Natural ingredients like camphor, menthol, and mint provide the coolness, which you’ll begin to feel almost immediately when you apply it. It’s deep-penetrating and effective. It comes in a tube, so you can squeeze it directly onto the spot you need to rub without spilling.
Be aware that this rub does contain some ingredients that could stain clothing or bedding. Just be careful where you use it. It dries quickly, and once it’s dry it shouldn’t stain anything.
You can use this muscle rub after exercise to get the blood flowing and ease up sore muscles. It can also be used as a pre-workout rub to get your muscles warmed up properly.
- Convenient applicator
- Dries quickly
- Deep penetrating
- Can be used for pre-exercise warm-up
- Some of the ingredients may lead to stains on clothing
Top Natural Lotion
4. The Feel Good Lab Sport Recovery Lotion
If you would prefer an all-natural rub, we recommend this one. It is made from all-natural ingredients, and all of them have unique properties that assist in making your muscles feel better. It’s also FDA-registered.
Ingredients like arnica, turmeric, and aloe vera have pain-relieving properties. Magnesium has numerous health benefits, including disposing of lactate, which can help to reduce muscle pain after exercise.
What you won’t find are things like alcohol, parabens, fragrances, and artificial ingredients. It’s easy to apply and also doesn’t smell too strong, as it only uses minimal amounts of menthol. Some may find it strong, but it also dissipates quickly.
It’s a little thicker than some others and some users might feel that it leaves a sticky residue on your skin or on your hands.
- Uses only natural ingredients
- FDA-registered formula
- Free of alcohol, parabens and fragrances
- Easy to apply
- Some may feel that it leaves a thick or sticky residue on the skin
Best Hemp Cream
5. Hemp Cream – Relieve & Recovery Maximum Strength
Hemp has some very good healing properties and it’s only starting to be taken seriously now. This muscle cream uses natural anti-inflammatory ingredients like hemp, arnica, aloe, and menthol. It also uses glucosamine, which is a joint supplement that may help relieve pain.
Hemp (and other ingredients in this cream) is known to reduce inflammation. Rubbing this into a sore muscle either before or after a workout can reduce any inflammation that may be present and as a result, reduce pain.
A unique ingredient is emu oil, which is made from the fat of an emu. It also has useful pain relief properties, but some may feel that they don’t want to use a cream containing animal products.
It’s a non-greasy, quick-absorbing cream that’s easy to apply to muscles anywhere on the body.
- Made from natural anti-inflammatory ingredients
- Aids in post-workout recovery
- Non-greasy formula
- Absorbs quickly
- Not suitable for vegetarians, as it contains emu oil
Top Inflammation Cream
6. Penetrex Relief & Recovery Therapy
If you’re looking for a cream to reduce inflammation, we recommend this one.
Inflammation in the muscles can cause pain, swelling, and redness. This cream can be used on its own or in conjunction with other therapies like heating pads or compression gear.
It’s an intensive concentrate, which means you don’t need to apply as much of it to see results. Ingredients like arnica, vitamin B6 and MSM are all soothing ingredients that help to relieve inflammation and reduce pain as a result.
The great thing about this cream is that it treats not just the inflammation, but it penetrates deeper to treat whatever is causing the inflammation. You can apply it anywhere you like, as it’s non-greasy and won’t stain your clothing or bedspread.
- Intensive concentrate (requires fewer applications)
- Treats the root causes of inflammation
- Non-greasy and non-staining
- Doesn’t work as well for joints as it does for muscles
Best Essential Oils Rub
7. doTERRA Deep Blue Rub
This rub is formulated from a mix of essential oils, which are all-natural and have healthy properties. You will find things like peppermint, eucalyptus, capsicum (pepper), and chamomile in the rub.
All of these are Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade natural plant extracts or essential oils. The combination provides natural pain relief by creating a warming and cooling feeling on the affected area.
It comes in a handy tube so you can apply it easily and start rubbing it in. The cream is also non-greasy, so you shouldn’t be left with any kind of residue. The smell may be somewhat strong, though.
- Provides a cooling and soothing sensation
- Uses Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade essential oils and natural plant extracts
- Easy to apply
- Non-greasy formula
- Some people may find the smell to be very strong
Top Arnica Massage Oil
8. Brookethorne Naturals Relief Arnica Massage Oil
Arnica has been used for years to relieve muscle aches and pains.
This massage oil uses arnica as its main ingredient and rounds out its formula with other healthy, all-natural ingredients like grapeseed oil, olive oil, and eucalyptus, lemongrass, rosemary, thyme, and black pepper essential oils.
It’s not sticky or greasy so you can rub it in easily and work your way around the muscle without feeling sticky or too slick. The pure arnica montana extract is a natural anti-inflammatory, which is highly effective for helping to heal bruises, sprains, strains, and swelling.
As well as arnica’s pain relief properties, eucalyptus has analgesic properties too. Lemongrass and rosemary are natural stress-relievers that help muscles to ease up.
It may stain clothing or furniture, so be careful where you use it.
- Uses all-natural products
- No greasy or sticky residue
- Paraben & phthalate Free
- Contains pure arnica montana extract
- It may stain clothing
Best Blended Massage Oil
9. Botanic Hearth Sore Muscle Massage Oil
For the best of a variety of anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving ingredients, we’ve chosen this oil. It uses a unique blend of different essential oils to provide relief from pain and discomfort.
Arnica, peppermint, and lavender are the main components, and they are all known for their relieving properties. The unique blend gives a relaxation effect, as well as anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and calming benefits.
When this oil is rubbed into a muscle, it provides a pleasant, slight warming sensation. The scent, for most people, is subtle and natural. Some people may find it to be too strong, but it depends on the person.
- Easy-absorption formula
- Has a slight warming sensation
- Subtle, natural scent
- Uses a unique blend of essential oils
- Some may not like the smell of the oil
What should you do before using a new muscle rub?
When you’re using a new product, you always want to test it on a small area of skin first before applying it to the affected area and follow the usage directions of the product. This way, you can make sure that you’re not going to have an allergic reaction to any of the ingredients.
Look at using products that are made using only natural ingredients, as some muscle rubs can contain the anti-inflammatory drug Diclofenac, which some people can be allergic to.
Make sure that your skin is clean and that you’ve cooled down—your skin must be cool to the touch— after having done any activity before applying a muscle rub cream.
Do not use a heating pad, hot water bottle, or sunlamp to the treated area as heat can increase the side effects of the muscle rub.
What ingredients are helpful to decrease recovery time?
Research has shown that using a muscle rub cream can decrease recovery time by reducing inflammation and muscle soreness.
Arnica helps to reduce pain, swelling, and bruising from overexertion, sprains, and strains. Due to its healing properties, many surgeons recommend arnica to help reduce swelling after surgery.
Menthol has been shown to reduce pain, as it is a counter-irritant, and has been used as an effective treatment for pain due to its antispasmodic, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory properties. Menthol also creates a cooling effect on the skin where it’s applied, but this is due to how it interacts with neuronal receptors.
Peppermint has been used for centuries to treat and relieve pain, reduce muscle spasms and increase blood circulation. CBD/hemp has certain compounds that interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which is responsible for regulating a number of bodily functions like immune and pain response, sleep, and appetite. The endocannabinoid compounds of CBD/hemp are able to interact with our bodies, and this helps to reduce pain and inflammation.
While lavender is known for its relaxing and calming effect, it’s also a multipurpose oil that’s been used to treat a number of ailments. Recent studies have shown that lavender also has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.
Turmeric has been used to treat a number of ailments from heartburn and inflammatory bowel disease to itching. Turmeric contains curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties that will reduce inflammation and pain.
What other methods can improve recovery time?
Muscle rubs and creams use a combination of ingredients like arnica and menthol that have been shown to reduce the amount of recovery time.
There are other ways to decrease recovery time, such as massaging the muscle rub into the affected area. This will help to improve the blood flow and relax the muscles.
Using a foam roller will help to release the tension in muscles, reducing the buildup of lactic acid and increasing blood flow to the muscles. This gets more oxygen and nutrients to the muscle, which helps with muscle recovery.
Stretching before and after a workout can help to prevent injuries and reduce recovery time. Before you run you can do some dynamic stretching, and after your run, you’ll find that gentle static stretching will help to release lactic acid build-up, improve blood circulation to the muscle, as well as stretching and relaxing muscles.
Taking an ice bath can reduce your recovery time! When you’re sitting in an ice bath, it changes the way the blood flows in the body, as the blood vessels constrict. As you warm up after the ice bath, your blood vessels will dilate, which will help to get rid of metabolic waste from your run. The ice bath will reduce inflammation and reduce pain.
Last, go for a low-intensity run, as this will help to increase the rate that the body gets rid of metabolic waste. The benefits of these recovery runs are well-known, and they deserve a place in your training plan. You’ll be increasing the blood flow to the muscles, which will increase the amount of oxygen that muscles get, which helps to reduce recovery time.