11 best muscle rubs that soothe soreness and tackle stiffness

Whether you’re going for long walks or spinning furiously on your Peloton bike, your fitness routine is likely to be causing stress to your muscles. Often, it’s just the odd ache or pain, but using a muscle rub when you have overexerted your body will hugely benefit your tired body, far more than just a soak in a hot bath of epsom salts.

Athletes have been using muscle rubs for years, yet only now, when daily fitness is encouraged in our lockdown life, are they getting the attention they deserve.

Ben Noy, one of the most recognised sponsored athletes in the fitness industry, agrees. He says: “Whether you’re an athlete or not, muscle rubs can benefit your lifestyle. They reduce inflammation, therefore shortening recovery time and relieving tension and inflammation in the tissue.”

Muscle rubs make a great addition to your medicine cabinet and can be a complementary treatment to pain medication, stretching, and hot and cold therapy. They come in all forms, ultimately you want something that works immediately, but that also lasts for hours.

So, whether you’re looking for something more luxurious to use to keep your muscles in tip-top condition or perhaps more hardcore to help your muscles recover in-between workouts, there’s one for you.

We tested 20 muscle rubs and whittled down our favourites according to speed of pain relief, texture, ease of application and cost. Here’s what we recommend.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Vitality CBD active muscle rub, 50ml

We’ve all heard about the power that CBD-based products have on our skin, but this balm is nothing short of a miracle. With the success of the original muscle balm, this new formulation is designed specifically with fitness in mind. The wax is a thin consistency which makes rubbing into muscles easy work.  While the CBD works hard to de-stress muscles, relieve tension and reduce pain almost immediately and can help to ease everything from chronic pain, migraines and arthritis, to carpal tunnel and over-exerted limbs. 

The solid balm thins out beautifully to make rubbing into sore muscles easy work, while the relaxing scent of eucalyptus and lavender lingers on your body. The lavender not only relaxes overworked muscles but also helps deliver the CBD to the areas of your body that need it the most.

Slather this on either before or after a workout to bring instant relief. With 300mg of gold-standard CBD packed into every bottle, this hard-hitter is ideal for sore knees, workout-weary legs and laptop-hunched shoulders. Anyone that takes their fitness seriously, needs to have this balm to hand.

Bamford sport arnica balm, 60ml

Tired muscles will instantly feel rejuvenated after a good slathering of this quick-absorbent posh-looking balm. Originally designed as part of a grooming range to ease tired muscles, this self-heating balm quickly and comfortably warms up on contact with your skin without leaving behind any sticky residue. We think it will work wonders for both men and women.

It’s packed with ginger and tea tree to encourage circulation and aid recovery of over-stiff muscles and it smells pampering rather than medicinal like muscle healing products often do. The slick packaging compliments any bathroom and will add some style points to your gym bag. Plus, the tube lasts forever. Be warned, a little goes a long way, so slowly build up the product rather than squirt out half the contents at one time.

This Works perfect body muscle therapy, 50ml

Despite its simple packaging, this product makes light (and enjoyable) work of nursing sore muscles and working in painful areas. This rollerball applicator is a game-changer to applying a muscle rub without getting your hands messy and great for chucking in your gym bag, travel bag or similar. It also means you’re giving yourself a little self-massage every time you apply it to your skin. It’s both satisfying and hardworking and you’ll see the results, from this 100 per cent natural blend, almost immediately. This is a tension-buster with added benefits, plus it smells gorgeously peppery too.

Aromatherapy Associates de-stress muscle gel, 150ml

Refreshing, rejuvenating and healing all-at-once. This cooling gel has a jelly-like texture that is neither sticky or greasy and sinks into the skin effortlessly. The cooling agent makes this a great choice for sports injuries as the cold sensation will help bring down the swelling and inflammation and help to manage any pain following an injury.

It’s packed with rosemary, lavender, black pepper and ginger that soothe, calm and encourage repair. Once the ingredients have sunk into your skin, the cool feeling is replaced with a warm comforting sensation instead. A sure sign the gel is hard at work.

Australian Bush Flower Essences emergency essence cream, 50ml

This all-round multi-tasking product works particularly well on bruised skin as well as deep into your muscle tissue. The creamy texture is thick yet easily absorbs into the skin without leaving behind any residue.

If you don’t enjoy the cooling or warming sensations that a lot of muscle rubs tend to have in-built in their formulations, then this is a great choice for you as it’s very basic in its texture. Plus, you can use it on open wounds too without irritating. The formula is also said to help heal and calm not only your skin but your emotional stress too. So, it comes as no surprise that it’s been selling out like hot cakes since lockdown living began.

Tiger Balm red ointment, 19ml

You have probably seen this dinky pot a million times over, it’s been easing sore muscles and eliminating stiffness for over a century. But don’t let the size fool you, it’s powerful stuff that really works. Plus, it’s completely natural and will last you ages. The comforting aroma of cinnamon (which works as a natural anti-inflammatory) is strong yet not sweet. Go easy on application though as a little goes a long way and too much may give you a burning sensation or cause your skin to itch.

Elemis warm up massage balm, 150ml

This is one of Elemis’s latest launches and it’s well worth the wait. Unlike its bestselling Instant Refreshing Gel, this has all the same muscle-healing benefits but with a heat activator rather than cold. It’s warming on the body and gives a comforting feel to tight, tired muscles.

The balm is quite thick in texture, so it’s best to apply this at night when you’re not in a rush to get dressed. The squeezy tube doesn’t allow for much product to come out, so be a little more generous with the amount you’re squeezing. To get the maximum effects, really concentrate on rubbing in the balm to get the heat flowing around your sore spots. The aroma is relaxing and cocooning which adds to the comfort factor. If you’re looking for something with an added luxe factor, this is it.

Neal’s Yard arnica salve, 45ml

On first use, you’ll immediately be hit by the natural, good-for-you smell from this dinky jar. With soothing organic arnica, skin-nourishing oils and protective beeswax, this is a hardworking product with no nasties that makes a great addition to your household medicinal cabinet.

The balm melts well, in fact, its super light texture makes it a great choice for smoothing on larger muscle groups as it thins out effortlessly. However, it is a little greasy, so be sure to rub in every last bit of product. For £10, this is a hardworking product that will keep on giving, plus its glass packaging will keep it fresher for longer.

BetterYou magnesium muscle body spray, 100ml

Technically not a rub, but if you’re short on time or quite simply in too much discomfort to rub in lotions and potions, this body spray will soon become your skin saviour after every strenuous workout. Part of the best-selling “magnesium body spray” range, it contains a natural blend of magnesium mixed in with lemon oil to energise, arnica to heal and capsicum to add heat that will speed up your recovery time.

You may experience a slight tingle (which takes some getting used to), but this is your skin’s reaction to getting a high-speed absorption of magnesium, which is totally normal and nothing to be alarmed about. In fact, this is what makes this spray incredibly effective as the magnesium goes straight through to your blood vessels and muscles rather than having to be absorbed by your digestive system like creams and balms do. It’s lightweight plastic packaging and spray-nozzle makes this a great choice if you’re on the move a lot and great for chucking into your gym bag.

Weleda arnica massage oil, 100ml

This gloopy oil is one is loved by athletes and sports masseurs and can be used both before and after exercise. Packed with arnica blossom and birch leaves to strengthen, rosemary to invigorate and relaxing lavender to create the perfect tonic, it eases muscle tension while nourishing the skin too.

The dispenser, although easy to pump, doesn’t allow enough oil to escape if you’re covering larger areas of your body, so be overly generous with the amount of liquid. The texture is quite greasy but fast-absorbing, while the natural scent is very simple. This may not have the aesthetics, but it definitely does what it says on the bottle.

Subtle Energies muscle ease massage blend, 50ml

This Australian brand is quickly becoming an industry favourite thanks to its divine aromatherapy blends, hardworking ingredients and consistent great feedback. With a price tag this hefty we were hoping this muscle ease would follow suit with the rest of the range. And it did. Perhaps not £59 worth, but the luxe factor is very much present.

The oil is beautifully light, super absorbent and the perfect texture for massaging deeply into tired and overworked muscles. It leaves a cosy and warm feel to the skin that makes you feel cocooned and pampered. If you can persuade your partner to give you a massage, make sure you have this to hand for an extra treat.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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