Person using topical pain relief product
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I used to think that pain creams were too heavy for my chronic pain. I was wrong.

Welcome back to the world of life. The topic of this month is touchy.

There are more options than when I was a child. I have at least one treatment in my bag for my skin and for my body.

Counterirritants like menthol and camphor can block pain sensations and are used in many creams.

Basically, you feel the more neutral sensation of cold or hot instead of pain. These ingredients, combined with the physical act of rubbing them in, also help to relax muscles and increase circulation to the affected area.

I used to dismiss pain creams as too lightweight for my chronic pain. I was wrong.

They are a vital part of managing the pain. Most of them are affordable and travel well.

Allow me to introduce you to some of my favorites.

Tiger Balm White Ointment

I have two to five jars of Tiger Balm in my reach at any given moment. Tiger Balm is cheap and effective.

It is the gold standard for joint pain relief. The relief lasts for hours. I use it most on my knees, wrists, and back.

Scent: It’s strong. It has notes of clove, peppermint, and camphor. It may be too intense for some people.

Cons: The menthol may make your body feel cold, especially if used on a large area.

Pro tip: The original orange version will stain. The white ointment will not. It’s cheaper to buy five than to buy individually.

Ted’s Pain Cream

This pain cream claims to “outsmart pain on a molecular level” using resveratrol.

“Daily use can increase effectiveness. Ted’s is my go-to for burning nerve pain. I like it for bicep and foot pain. It smells amazing.”

Scent: Wintergreen. It’s refreshing, light, and not cloying like some menthols.

Cons: It’s only available online and is kind of pricey.

Pro tip: I buy a three-pack and save $6.

Mary’s Medicinals CBD Muscle Freeze

This product is infused with cannabidiol (CBD) and is a luxurious treat. Its gel-like texture absorbs well, and CBD may help reduce inflammation.

I like it for muscle strains, especially in my neck and shoulders.

Scent: It’s strong and minty.

Cons: It’s expensive, and the childproof squeeze bottle hurts my wrists.

Pro tip: If cannabis is legal in your state, search for Mary’s here. Otherwise, order the version with legal, hemp-derived CBD here.

Salonpas Patches

This is a cheap and easy way to relieve pain.

“These There are patches. are hidden in the smallest bags and won’t be seen by others unless they are sniffing your skin.”

Scent: The scent is minimal and slightly smells like menthol.

Cons: It can fall off easily if it’s not strategically applied.

Pro tip: The There are patches. don’t stick great on joints, can inhibit movement, and can easily fall off. Stick to back and muscle pain!

Mary’s Medicinals 1:1 CBD:THC Patch

“Mary’s has a patch that is scentless. It sticks to your skin for up to 12 hours, releasing a small stream of cannabinoids.”

It helps me take the edge off my pain days.

Scent: .

Cons: It’s only available where cannabis is legal.

Pro tip: Use coconut oil to remove it, as it sticks like glue!

Only stores where cannabis is legal can be found.

Voltaren Gel

Similar to ibuprofen, this is a non-steroidal anti-Inflammatory drug. It works best on small joints. The gel is available over the counter. The eye drops and the capsule are not OTC.

Scent: The scent is mild and smells slightly medicinal and sickly sweet. The scent doesn’t linger.

Cons: You have to monitor your NSAID use when using this gel. Ask a doctor or friendly local pharmacist for assistance.

Pro tip: This works best on joints with little padding, like wrists.

Lidoderm Lidocaine Patches (Rx only)

Ah, how I love my Lidoderm There are patches.! Unfortunately, certain doses of lidocaine require a prescription and are only covered for a few specific diagnoses (Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) is not one of them).

I use them for acute injuries and extreme pain because they are $150 per box. Ask a doctor about a prescription, and ask a pharmacy about the price.

Scent: .

Cons: A prescription is needed for higher doses and is only covered by insurance for a few specific diagnoses.

Pro tip: It works best on large areas, like the back or hips. It doesn’t stick well to joints, like knees or ankles.

Cost can be based on copay or insurance.

There are a few important tips to keep in mind before you start.

Quick topical tips

  • “Don’t use these on broken skin, burns, or rashes.”
  • If you have allergies, check the ingredients.
  • When using a product for the first time, do a patch test.
  • Many of these contain potentially harmful substances. When touching your eyes and other mucous membranes, wash your hands.
  • Use a makeup spatula to scrape out every last drop.

What is topical pain relief?

Administered to the skin, pain relief products are used to help with pain. They can be in the form of:

  • creams
  • It is lotion.
  • gels.
  • sprays
  • There are patches.
  • Other methods are also used.

Are topical analgesics effective?

According to research, topical analgesics may be highly effective in relieving pain by up to 50 percent.

How long does it take topical pain relief to work?

Pain relief can be done by absorbing into the skin and acting on the tissues. It can take between 30 minutes and an hour to be effective with many pain killers.

There are so many options out there for pain management. This list represents only a snapshot of what’s available.

Talking with your care team can help you decide what is best for you.

I hope you’ll try these topical treatments the next time you have a flare. And remember: tiger balm — it’s not just for tigers anymore.

Ash Fisher is a writer and comedian living with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. When she’s not having a wobbly-baby-deer day, she’s hiking with her corgi, Vincent. She lives in Oakland. Learn more about her at