Do muscle creams like IcyHot actually work?

Have you ever woken up with muscles so sore you can’t even move? Almost every time I go exercise I come back super sore and my mom tells me to use IcyHot or Bengay. 1297311577538_ORIGINALThis made me wonder—do topical muscle creams actually work?

Delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS starts to appear “within 12 to 24 hours after exercise, peaks after 24 to 72 hours, and should disappear within three to five days.” This happens when the muscle tissues are stressed and small tears in the muscle appear when you contract your muscle. 

Muscle creams contain three main ingredients: menthol, camphor and methyl salicylate. These ingredients create feelings of warm and cold to the skin and “competes with and helps to block the pain signals associated with DOMS…so [it] has no direct effect on the muscles themselves.” Since there is no direct contact between the cream and the sore muscles, it is believed that the muscle cream “distracts” the nervous system from the pain of the muscles and concentrates on the sensations of hot and cold.

Dr. William O. Roberts claims that “We try to treat based on the scientific literature, and I personally haven’t seen a lot of good literature supporting the use of topical analgesic so unless someone does a double-blind study with lots of proof, we really don’t have good evidence that these products make any difference.” Since there has been little research on the use of sports creams, there is no proof as to whether or not easing muscle pain with creams is due to the placebo effect. One solution could be giving two randomized groups of 200 people specific workout regimens and handing one group a sports cream, while handing the other a placebo. The only problem with this is that people have different levels of strength and some people will be more sore than others, so those who are more sore might believe the cream doesn’t work. 

Ultimately, there are not enough studies to prove whether muscle creams work. Personally, the hot and cold sensations relieve my muscle pain, so using these sports creams is up to personal preference. Since these creams haven’t done any harm to my skin or muscles, I might as well just continue using them.

8 thoughts on “Do muscle creams like IcyHot actually work?

  1. Jensen T Sneeringer

    I was very active in sports throughout high school and before, so I was nearly dependent on these types of products, especially in winter when I played basketball. I actually found <a href="http://en.cnki.com.cn/Article_en/CJFDTOTAL-ZNYX201102005.htm"/a&gt; that says something similar to your research. However, towards the end, it begins to mention some kind of benefit “to the topical treatment.” I also think that even if there is no true physical benefit, it could be some kind of placebo effect to add to why it always feels so good after use.

  2. Kelly T Smith

    This is actually disappointing because I had always believed that they worked. I think I truly just liked the sensation and because of that thought it was working. I’m surprised that these are so popular considering they don’t do much to heal pain, it’s mostly a placebo.

  3. Mehmet Fevzi Eygoren

    I had always believed that the cream actually healed the tears in our muscles. During my soccer games i would use icy-hot, and i would make sure to put it right on the spot of my pain. Would it matter then, to put it on the actually part of our body that hurts? Because all its really doing is distracting our body from the pain.

  4. Mehmet Fevzi Eygoren

    I had always believed that the cream actually healed the tears in our muscles. During my soccer games i would use icy-hot, and i would make sure to put it right on the spot of my pain. Would it matter then, to put it on the actually part of our body that hurts? Because all its really doing is distracting our body from the pain.

  5. Mehmet Fevzi Eygoren

    I had always believed that the cream actually healed the tears in our muscles. During my soccer games i would use icy-hot, and i would make sure to put it right on the spot of my pain. Would it matter then, to put it on the actually part of our body that hurts? Because all its really doing is distracting our body from the pain.

  6. Alexander William Beitel

    Being an athlete, I found this post interesting as I have used Icy Hot in the past. I was surprised to read that there isn’t enough evidence to prove whether or not these muscle creams work. I would imagine that someone would have had to prove that these have some effect in order for them to even be sold. I thought this article related slightly to what we talked about in class about how decisions are sometimes made on instinct. Nobody is sure whether or not these creams work but based upon “scientific literature” they produce and sell this product.

  7. Alexander William Beitel

    Being an athlete, I found this post interesting as I have used Icy Hot in the past. I was surprised to read that there isn’t enough evidence to prove whether or not these muscle creams work. I would imagine that someone would have had to prove that these have some effect in order for them to even be sold. I thought this article related slightly to what we talked about in class about how decisions are sometimes made on instinct. Nobody is sure whether or not these creams work but based upon “scientific literature” they produce and sell this product.

  8. Alexander William Beitel

    Being an athlete, I found this post interesting as I have used Icy Hot in the past. I was surprised to read that there isn’t enough evidence to prove whether or not these muscle creams work. I would imagine that someone would have had to prove that these have some effect in order for them to even be sold. I thought this article related slightly to what we talked about in class about how decisions are sometimes made on instinct. Nobody is sure whether or not these creams work but based upon “scientific literature” they produce and sell this product.

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