If you’ve ever had any aches and pains and applied a sports cream (or “pain cream”), like Ben Gay or Icy Hot, to your skin, you most likely know that feeling of a hot or cool burning sensation. And given that you feel that sensation almost immediately after applying it to your body, you probably assume that it’s working to help soothe your pain and perhaps even heal your injury.
Well, according to the New York Times article “Do Sports Creams Rub the Pain Away?”, sports creams may not do all that much for you — aside from providing that brief burning sensation:
…there is scant evidence that any of the creams actually work. Some doctors point out that no physical changes occur at the spot where the creams are applied – even if they give the not-unpleasant sensation of heat or cold – and suggest that the only real benefit could be that of a placebo.
Studies have found only limited evidence that over-the-counter topical analgesics are helpful for any type of pain. The research is so minimal and inconclusive that doctors at the Sports Medicine Center at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota refused to comment on the efficacy of topical analgesics, saying in an e-mail message, “There is no science to either support or refute the effectiveness” of the products.
And from Ed Ryan, the recent director of sports medicine for the United States Olympic Committee:
“From a physiological standpoint, there’s very little benefit that occurs in the tissue where you’re applying a cream,” he said. “They don’t cause a change to occur that would result in any pain decrease or any physiological change that would hasten healing.”
So it looks like you can save yourself a little money and avoid buying sports creams in the future. And if you still really want some — perhaps you enjoy the burning sensation? — then here are a few links to DIY sports cream recipes: