If you've found yourself rooting around in your bathroom cabinet looking for cream or ointment for your sore back, we feel you. Whether your back pain is a result of a bad sleep position, pain during your period, improper form when lifting weights at the gym, daily wear and tear (or, heck, just yawning or reaching for the remote the "wrong" way), you can find back pain relief with topical creams and ointments. The best creams for back pain will really depend on ingredients, how it’s applied, the warming or cooling effect, and price point. Luckily for you, we've got your back (pun intended) with all the information below—so keep scrolling!
We put together this curated list of the best creams for back pain relief, after researching more than 20 products. Our team evaluated each product based on effectiveness, feel, ingredients, and price.
Best creams for back pain relief, at a glance:
- Best overall: Bengay, Ultra Strength Pain Relieving Cream, $16
- Best icy: Biofreeze, Menthol Pain Relieving Cream, $12
- Best hot: Penetrex, Joint & Muscle Therapy Cream, $19
- Best icy & hot: Icy Hot, No Mess Roll-On, $13
- Best CBD: Remedial Pax, Instant Hеmp Cream, $20
- Best budget: Tiger Balm, Pain Relieving Ultra Strength Ointment, $8
- Best roll-on: Aspercreme, Lidocaine Pain Relief Roll-On, $9
- Best gel: Sombra, Warm Pain Relief Gel, $17
- Best for chronic pain: Topricin, Pain Relief Therapy Cream, $18
- Best with lidocaine: Uber Numb, 5% Lidocaine Topical Numbing Cream, $17
- Best for athletes: Voltaren, Arthritis Pain Gel, $19
- Best unscented: Blue Emu, Muscle Analgesic Cream, $27
- Best natural: Dr. Bronner's, Arnica-Menthol Organic Magic Balm, $14
What to consider when shopping for an back pain relief cream
To find the best muscle pain relief cream, you need to consider your needs and preferences. Here are some key factors to look out for.
Knowing what’s in the product will help you choose a cream that relieves the specific pain symptoms you’re feeling. For example, most creams contain topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to manage inflammation and relieve pain. Some creams contain counterirritants, such as capsaicin and menthol, to inhibit pain signals to the brain and provide temporary pain relief. Capsaicin produces a warming sensation, while menthol has a cooling effect. Additionally, other pain relief creams use lidocaine, a topical anesthetic, to numb the area and relieve pain.
You should pick a muscle rub with the most practical application method based on your preferences and potential physical limitations. Some back pain relief creams come in a tube and require you to massage the product into your skin manually. Others are designed as roll-ons, which can be helpful when applying to hard-to-reach areas. If you’re not a fan of sticky creams, you may opt for products with a gel-like consistency. Those with mobility limitations may also consider sprays for easy application.
Potential side effects
Research the product before buying, especially if you have particularly sensitive skin. Check out the ingredients to see if you’ll have any potential allergic reactions. Some back pain relief creams have ingredients that can cause reactions ranging from tingling or burning sensations to rashes and itching. Always do a patch test before using the product over a large area. Lastly, if you also have a sensitive nose, you may want to go for fragrance-free products. Consult a healthcare professional if you observe any skin reactions or discomfort from pain relief cream use.
What is the best cream to use for back pain?
The best cream for back pain depends on the type of pain you’re experiencing and your preferences. For example, some may want a pain relief cream that provides deep penetrating warmth like the Penetrex Joint & Muscle Therapy Cream, while others prefer products like the Biofreeze Menthol Pain Relieving Cream for an icy cool feel. Some may need a cream with numbing agents like lidocaine to numb pain areas, while others may want the best arthritis cream to alleviate arthritis pain. Others might be looking for the best cream for sciatica pain for targeted pain relief, while some may just be looking for an all-around pain relief cream.
Does cream help lower back pain?
Yes, topical creams can help with lower back pain. They work either by creating a hot or cold sensation that distracts the brain from pain or by delivering pain-relieving medication directly to the affected area. Creams can be applied to specific areas, allowing for targeted pain relief, which is useful if the pain is localized around the lower back area. Note that they can only provide temporary relief and that you should always consult a healthcare professional, especially if there’s recurring or worsening pain. In many cases, prevention is the best measure, so learn which exercises to avoid, and pay attention to your sleeping position.
How do you relieve back pain fast?
Aside from topical pain relief creams, you can take over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen, or try cold and heat therapy on the affected area. Make it a practice to do light stretching and exercises before and after strenuous physical activities. Maintain a good posture and take regular breaks, especially if you’ll be sitting or standing for long periods. Lastly, choose one of the best pillows for back pain to avoid misaligning your spine, which could cause or worsen back pain. If your back pain persists or worsens, seek medical advice.
13 best creams for back pain
The Bengay cream is a trusted household name for effective, reliable back pain relief. It’s got three active ingredients: methyl salicylate, menthol, and camphor. Thanks to this triple-action formula, reviewers felt a cooling sensation immediately upon application, followed by deep-penetrating relief for their tense muscles. Another feature they liked about the Bengay cream is the thick yet non-greasy consistency that you can easily rub into your skin for fast-acting relief.
One downside is that the scent is strong enough for other people to smell it on you, but many reviewers didn’t mind since some of them liked the smell. Fortunately, the brand also offers a fragrance-free Bengay cream for those with sensitive noses and even lightly scented ones for those who want a toned-down smell.
- Fast-acting relief
- Cooling effect
- Non-greasy formula
- Strong scent
If an ice pack isn’t working, this cooling pain relief cream from Biofreeze may be the solution. True to its name, this topical cream produces an instant cooling effect that helps numb the affected area to relieve pain. Since it uses menthol as the active ingredient, it comes with a pleasant menthol smell that some reviewers did not find overpowering, although some people felt it was. Some people complained about the smell lingering for too long, especially when using a lot of the product.
Unlike some other creams, the Biofreeze pain relieving cream has a smooth, easy-to-apply consistency that doesn’t leave a sticky, greasy feel. Lastly, many people liked how it’s infused with grapeseed oil, which acts as a natural moisturizer to prevent the affected area from drying out with repeated use.
- Cooling effect
- Non-greasy and easy to apply
- Lingering menthol smell that may be too strong for some people
If you’re looking for an all-natural muscle rub that provides a soothing, warm feel, check out the Penetrex Joint & Muscle Therapy Cream. This paraben-free topical cream uses a natural mix of vitamin B6, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), and arnica—a herbaceous plant known for its natural anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Arnica is known for providing deep-penetrating relief from muscle and joint pain, making Penetrex a popular contender for the best arthritis cream on the market.
It takes a few minutes after application for the warming sensation to set in, but once it does, many reviewers felt instant pain relief. Some creams have strong smells, but the Penetrex cream has a very light menthol scent, so it’s safe for those with sensitive noses. Many people really liked the non-greasy, non-staining formula.
- All-natural ingredients
- Non-greasy, non-staining formula
- Light scent
- A bit pricey
- Only suitable for minor pains and aches
Best icy & hot:
The Icy Hot No Mess Roll-On is the perfect pain relief solution if you prioritize convenience and instant pain relief. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like getting their hands greasy, you’ll love the travel-friendly size with a roll-on applicator for no-mess application. As you can probably guess from the name, it uses a combination of warming and cooling effects to numb the area and relieve pain. Although it’s more gel-like than a cream, it’s very lightweight and dries quickly. It also doesn’t stain your clothes, so you won’t think twice about applying it as you go about your day. Like many other muscle rubs, the Icy Hot Roll-On also has a menthol scent, but many people found it very light and quite pleasant.
- No-mess roll-on applicator
- Quick-drying formula
- Light menthol scent
- Only comes in a small bottle
The REMEDIAL PAX Hemp Cream is a botanical-based pain relief cream. It utilizes the pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties of hemp extract and hemp seed oil. It’s also formulated with organic ingredients like arnica, turmeric, aloe vera, eucalyptus oil, and other natural oils.
Although it’s marketed to be fast-acting, it took many reviewers about five minutes to feel the pain relief, which wasn’t an issue for some people since it was very effective. The CBD in this cream adds a nice muscle-relaxing effect, perfect to use right before bed. However, having CBD as a main ingredient does make it a bit pricey. As for the smell, it has an herbal-y menthol scent that people really liked, but some may find it a bit too strong.
- Natural ingredients
- Muscle-relaxing effect
- A bit expensive
- Takes a few minutes to work
With a history of providing pain relief for over 100 years, Tiger Balm is a tried-and-tested pain relief solution. Its secret lies in its herbal formulation of camphor and menthol to produce a strong cooling effect that helps relieve minor muscle and joint pain. This makes it one of the best arthritis creams for those on a budget. It’s also formulated with a variety of essential oils that aids in eliminating muscle stiffness and soreness.
One of its main selling points is its affordable price tag, plus the fact that it’s widely available in drug stores and grocery stores. However, it’s also known for its strong scent, which may be off-putting for some. Another thing to note is that it can actually stain your clothes, so be careful when applying it.
- Herbal ingredients
- Strong cooling effect
- Can stain clothing
- Strong scent
Applying pain relief cream to those hard-to-reach areas on your back can be frustrating, especially if you have mobility challenges. Luckily, Aspercreme has the solution. It’s one of the top picks for the best lidocaine cream on the market, as well as one of our top picks for the best cream for nerve pain in the back. One of its main highlights is its easy-use roll-on, which lets you apply the product to hard-to-reach places—minus the mess.
It contains 4 percent lidocaine that helps numb the painful area within a few minutes of application. Many reviewers liked how the formulation dries up quickly and doesn’t leave a sticky feeling afterward. This roll-on is infused with essential oils (you can choose from four scents) instead of the typical menthol scent. One thing to note: lidocaine only numbs the area for pain relief, so if you’re looking for something to address swelling or inflammation, you may want to look at other options.
- Easy roll-on application
- Infused with essential oils
- Quick-dry, non-sticky formula
- Won’t alleviate inflammation
The Sombra Warm Pain Relief Gel offers a soothing warm-and-cool sensation thanks to its natural blend of menthol, camphor, and witch hazel. It’s formulated to be quickly absorbed into the skin. Many reviewers immediately noticed the quick absorption—it starts off icy cool and gradually gets warmer to help your muscles relax.
Despite having menthol as an active ingredient, it has a subtle citrusy smell that many really loved. The Sombra pain relief gel does a great job of providing quick pain relief that lasts for hours and is specifically made for back pain and arthritis. Be careful not to apply too much at the start since a little goes a long way, and adding too much can cause skin irritation.
- Non-greasy and non-staining
- Pleasant citrus smell
- Unique warm and cool sensation
- May not be suitable for sensitive skin
Best for chronic pain:
Topricin Pain Relief Therapy Cream provides a safe yet effective pain relief solution for all ages, from children to elderly people and those who are pregnant. This topical cream from Topricin is specially formulated for arthritis, carpal tunnel, and muscle and joint pains. It contains natural ingredients (like arnica, belladonna, and more) that not only address pain relief but also other symptoms like swelling, inflammation, soreness, and even muscle spasms.
- Suitable for all ages
- Safe for pregnant people
- Contains natural ingredients
- Some natural ingredients could cause an allergic reaction
- A bit pricy
Best with lidocaine:
This muscle rub from Uber Numb is vegan and won’t dry out your skin. It’s formulated with 5 percent lidocaine, vitamin E, and allantoin to help relieve pain, inflammation, soreness, and itching while hydrating and moisturizing your skin. This combo makes it a favorite pain reliever among tattoo enthusiasts.
It’s also hypoallergenic, so it’s a great choice for those with skin allergies and sensitive skin. Since it’s a water-based cream, it gets absorbed into the skin quickly, giving fast-acting pain relief in less than five minutes. A common complaint was that the pain relief doesn’t last as long as other creams.
- Hypoallergenic and great for sensitive skin
- Water-based for quicker absorption
- Pain relief and numbing wears off quickly
- A bit pricy
Best for athletes:
Whether you’re a pro athlete or just a sports enthusiast, the Voltaren Pain Relief Gel is the ideal match for those with active lifestyles. It’s also one of the best arthritis creams for those suffering from joint pain. This medicated gel contains the active ingredient diclofenac sodium, which helps inhibit the production of pain-inducing chemicals in the body for immediate pain relief.
Diclofenac can also provide sciatica nerve support, making this the best cream for sciatica pain on our list. It comes in a travel-size tube with a secure screw cap, so many people found it very convenient to use on the go. If you’re dealing with chronic pain, though, expect to use Voltaren multiple times a day (up to four times, as recommended). Lastly, many reviewers liked its pleasant yet mild aroma, so we recommend this to people with sensitive noses.
- Mild aroma
- Tackles deep muscle pain
- Non-greasy formula
- May need multiple re-applications
This unscented topical cream utilizes emu oil as a carrier oil for ingredients like aloe vera and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM,) which help with quick absorption and pain relief. The aloe vera gives the cream a cooling effect, but it’s much more subtle compared to other creams with menthol. It’s very moisturizing but doesn’t leave a greasy feel, so we think it’d be a good match for dry, sensitive skin. It’s also safe to reapply multiple times throughout the day for all-day pain relief. Those with seafood or shellfish allergies should steer clear of this product since it contains glucosamine, an active ingredient derived from shellfish.
- Unscented and great for sensitive skin types
- Non-greasy formula
- Contains non-vegan ingredients
- A bit pricey
For an effective, all-natural pain relief cream, Dr. Bronner’s Organic Magic Balm is a popular go-to. It boasts an organic blend of arnica, menthol, camphor, and peppermint oil that does a great job alleviating muscle and joint pain, inflammation, and headaches. This mix gives off a pleasant, cooling feel and a wonderful minty scent that’s gentle on the nose. It also contains moisturizing ingredients like avocado, jojoba, and hemp oil to prevent dry, chapped skin. However, it can leave an oily feel on your skin after use. It’s a bit expensive and only comes in a small container, but fortunately, you only need a small amount to see quick results.
- All-natural ingredients
- Safe for children
- Leaves greasy feel on the skin
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