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These are the best arthritis creams of 2024, according to health experts

Find relief with over-the-counter products from Biofreeze, Bengay, Tiger Balm, Tylenol and more.

These are the best arthritis creams of 2024, according to health experts

More than 53 million adults in the United States are affected by arthritis, and because of that, we lose a shocking $300 billion annually on medical care and lost wages, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it's no wonder that so many of us are affected: There are over 100 types of arthritis. The most common? Osteoarthritis, or degenerative arthritis, which is non-inflammatory. Inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, is generally due to a systemic autoimmune disease.

Regardless of what type of arthritis you have, one thing remains the same for all of us: Pain and discomfort. Fortunately, arthritis pain relief creams can help — and, with the help of experts, we've set out to find the best arthritis creams on the market.

Dr. Zeeshan Ahmad, pain and spine specialist at OSF HealthCare, said some of the most common ingredients used in arthritis creams include capsaicin, menthol, lidocaine, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory substances. "These ingredients work to either block pain signals or reduce inflammation, providing relief," Ahmad explained.

To better understand the different types of arthritis creams and their key ingredients, we spoke to a panel of experts who specialize in pain management — board-certified doctors, joint-pain specialists, chiropractors and physical therapists — about what specifically to look for. With their input, we researched more than 35 creams designed to alleviate arthritis pain and discomfort. Each was evaluated based on factors such as active ingredients, ease of application, cost, brand reputation and customer reviews. Below are our top picks for the best arthritis pain relief creams, according to expert guidance and meticulous research.

Best arthritis pain relief creams of 2024

Cost: $12 | Key ingredients: Menthol 10% | Cooling, warming, neutral effect: Cooling | Scent: Mint

While Biofreeze has a broad range of pain-relieving products including patches, creams and gels, our experts tell us that the Menthol Cream packs more benefits than its gel counterparts. "It won’t leave residue on your clothes and can be applied up to four times a day," said John Gallucci Jr., chief executive officer of JAG Physical Therapy and an expert in sports medicine, rehabilitation and injury prevention. 

With a 10% menthol concentration, this cream provides a powerful cooling sensation that aims to quickly relieve stiff, achy joints. It's NSAID-free (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), so it's not as harsh on the skin as some other products. That said, since it's concentrated (10% menthol is on the higher side), it's not recommended for people with sensitive skin. Test it out on a small patch of skin before applying it to larger areas, and if irritation occurs, stop using it. However, this cream may be your new best friend if you can tolerate it.

Biofreeze also makes a pain-relieving roll-on.

Pros
  • NSAID-free
  • Non-greasy
  • Replenishes moisture barrier
Cons
  • Strong scent
  • May cause skin irritation
$12 at Walmart

Cost: $14 | Key ingredients: Menthol 11%, camphor 11% | Cooling, warming, neutral effect: Warming | Scent: Light mint

While it's labeled a "rub," this Tiger Balm formula has the consistency of a cream or mousse and comes in a pump bottle, making it especially easy to use. Aside from its low price, the 11% concentration of both of its active ingredients, camphor and menthol, make this product stand out. Matthew Cavanaugh, a chiropractor at Cavanaugh Chiropractic Clinic, tells us, "At 11%, these counterirritants are strong enough to disrupt the pain signals from arthritis, which allows you to complete your everyday activities with less pain." Another bonus: The warming rub can help increase blood flow to stiff joints.

Don't worry about smelling like a medicine cabinet, either. What little odor Tiger Balm does have will quickly dissipate after application. However, be cautious when applying it after bathing or when the skin is wet — the manufacturer recommends avoiding water one hour before and after using it, as this may increase the warming effects and cause irritation.

Pros
  • Non-drying
  • Easy-to-use pump bottle
  • Scent is relatively light
Cons
  • May cause temporary redness
$14 at Amazon

Cost: $15 | Key ingredients: Menthol 16%, camphor 11% | Cooling, warming, neutral effect: Cooling | Scent: Mint

If you prefer a maximum-strength arthritis pain relief cream but don't love the residue these creams often leave behind, consider Icy Hot Pro. With 16% menthol and 11% camphor, it boasts one of the highest concentrations of active ingredients available without a prescription. And don't worry about messy hands: Its applicator packs a whopping 54 individual massaging nodes that allow you to apply it in the form of a cooling massage. The cream absorbs quickly and feels non-greasy, but because of the high menthol concentration, the scent is quite strong. It may irritate your nose and eyes when you apply it to larger areas, so make sure you do it in a well-ventilated area away from young children and pets.

Pros
  • Mess-free application
  • Absorbs quickly
  • Non-greasy
Cons
  • Strong scent
  • May cause irritation
$10 at Amazon

Cost: $45 | Key ingredients: Full-spectrum hemp oil, menthol, arnica, rosemary | Cooling, warming, neutral effect: Cooling | Scent: Light natural

Equilibria's Relief Balm contains menthol, arnica and 500 milligrams of full-spectrum CBD, delivering a cooling sensation and anti-inflammatory benefits. CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a compound found in cannabis or hemp plants that has shown promising pain-relieving properties. The cream has several moisturizing ingredients including coconut oil and shea butter, and is free of gluten, GMOs and synthetic fragrances. Just note that the 1-ounce container may not last long if you use this multiple times daily.

You can save 25% as a subscriber with each Equilibria shipment. Plus, the company offers free consultations with wellness coaches to help you find the right amount of CBD to control your pain. As with any CBD product, it's important to consult with your doctor before use, especially if you are taking other medications or have any medical conditions. 

Pros
  • CBD all-natural pain relieving properties
  • Discounts for subscribers
  • Replenishes skin's moisture barrier
Cons
  • Pricey
$33.75 with subscription at Equilibria

Cost: $13 | Key ingredients: Lidocaine 4%, menthol 1% | Cooling, warming, neutral effect: Cooling | Scent: Mint

Tylenol's new Precise Cooling Pain Cream combines the pain-fighting powers of lidocaine and menthol in an effort to deliver fast-acting, cooling relief. The multiple steel ball bearings in the rollerball applicator allow you to target pain precisely and evenly distribute the cream. The non-greasy formula absorbs quickly, making it an excellent option for on-the-go use.

Note that the small applicator can make applying this cream to larger areas like the hips challenging. However, smaller areas like the hands, wrists, and neck are easy to target — which may be exactly what you like about it.

Pros
  • Non-greasy
  • Mess-free application
  • Rollerball for targeted relief
Cons
  • Small applicator not great for large areas like the hips
$12 at Amazon

Cost: $22 | Key ingredients: Capsaicin, arnica, MSM | Cooling, warming, neutral effect: Warming | Scent: Light

Penetrex's Warming Pain Relief Cream is a vegan formula that soothes muscle and joint pain with capsaicin, arnica and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), an organic sulfur compound that has been shown in clinical trials to reduce pain. Capsaicin has been shown to reduce pain signals, while arnica is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. Gallucci says that not only is this cream safe to use up to three times a day, but "it is also a great option for those who do not enjoy menthol’s strong scent and chilly sensation."

Since this contains capsaicin — derived from chili peppers — the warming sensation may feel intense for some users. Sweat and water can increase the warming effect, so avoid using it before exercise or after a shower. 

Pros
  • Vegan
  • Light dissipating scent
  • Can use up to three times daily
Cons
  • Should avoid using before sweating and physical activity
$19 at Amazon

Cost: $40 | Key ingredients: Symphytum officinale extract 10X, rosmarinus officinale extract 1X, menthol, camphor | Cooling, warming, neutral effect: Cooling | Scent: Cinnamon

Willing to splurge on a high-quality, all-natural pain relief cream? Treefrog's Topical Pain Relief Cream contains powerful ingredients like Symphytum officinale extract, also known as comfrey, which has been used for centuries to relieve pain and inflammation. Other noteworthy ingredients include rosmarinus officinale extract (rosemary), menthol and camphor.

The product itself is light and non-greasy, and it absorbs within minutes, leaving a soft, silky feel. The cinnamon scent is refreshing and not overpowering, and it doesn't have a strong menthol smell. It leaves a slight red hue on lighter skin after application, but that dissipates quickly.

Pros
  • All-natural
  • Long-lasting
  • Absorbs quickly
Cons
  • Leaves a slight red hue on skin
  • Contains alcohol, which may irritate some skin types
$40 at Amazon

Cost: $11 | Key ingredients: Trolamine salicylate 10% | Cooling, warming, neutral effect: Neutral | Scent: Fragrance-free

Aspercreme has been around for what seems like forever, and if you haven't tried its Maximum Strength Pain Relief Cream yet, it's worth considering — especially if you aren't big on smelly creams. "Aspercreme is odor-free, which is a pro for those sensitive to smells and cannot have fragrance on their skin," Gallucci said. It's also non-greasy and dries quickly.

The cream contains 10% trolamine salicylate, a topical pain reliever shown to target and inhibit pain receptors. Upon application, the active ingredient begins working within minutes and provides relief for hours. 

While it has no added ingredients for extra benefits besides aloe leaf juice for moisture, the product comes in a generous 5-ounce tube (most competitors average 4 ounces). The flip-top cap also helps make opening the tube easier, even with achy wrists and hands. Just note that the salicylate may still irritate some, so test it on a small patch of skin before applying it more liberally. 

Pros
  • Non-greasy
  • More product than competitors (5 ounces)
  • Flip-top cap for easy application
Cons
  • Contains salicylate, which may irritate some
$9 at Amazon

Cost: $8 | Key ingredients: Lidocaine 4% | Cooling, warming, neutral effect: Neutral | Scent: Tropical jasmine

Bengay Lidocaine Cream contains 4% lidocaine, the maximum strength allowed for over-the-counter use, making it ideal for those with moderate to severe arthritis pain. The cream works by numbing the pain receptors in the affected area within minutes. For best results, apply a thin layer and wait 10 minutes before going about your day. The cream penetrates your skin within seconds and provides relief for several hours or longer. Plus, you can apply it up to four times daily for flare-ups or more severe discomfort.

The added fragrance, a tropical jasmine scent, may be pleasing to some, but others with sensitive skin or noses may find it irritating. 

Pros
  • Maximum strength formula
  • Numbs pain quickly
  • Can use up to four times daily
Cons
  • Contains added fragrance
  • Thinner consistency than other creams
$8 at Walmart

What to consider when buying arthritis cream

Active ingredients:

Ahmad says the majority of pain-relieving creams contain capsaicin, menthol, lidocaine and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory substances. Depending on the ingredients, they can give a sensation that is warming, cooling or neutral. "Capsaicin application produces a warm, burning sensation locally before it produces some relief. Menthol produces a cold sensation locally and helps with pain," Ahmad said. "Lidocaine is an anesthetic medicine which reduces pain by making the area numb." Diclofenac sodium is an example of a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug used topically to reduce pain and inflammation. CBD has also emerged as an option for pain relief as well.

Scent:

Some creams are scented, while others are relatively odorless. Many popular over-the-counter options have a natural scent related to their active ingredients. For example, menthol and camphor products have a distinct minty smell, and capsaicin creams tend to have a spicy aroma. Note that added fragrances can irritate sensitive skin, and they don't make a product more or less effective.

Side effects:

Side effects are possible with any medication, including topical pain relievers. Ahmad said the most common side effect of arthritis creams is skin irritation. If you have sensitive skin or allergies, check the ingredient list before purchasing and spot test the cream on a small area of your skin first. In rare cases, some active ingredients may cause more serious side effects, such as allergic reactions or burning. If you experience any adverse reactions, stop using the cream and call your doctor.

"Remember that anti-inflammatory medicines are also known to cause blood thinning. So, if someone is already taking blood thinners and on top applies arthritic creams to half or more of the surface of their body, then the risk for internal bleeding would be high," Ahmad said. If you have any underlying health conditions or are taking other medications, consult with your doctor before using these creams.

Application:

Application can be messy, especially if a cream comes in a tube. Others may have roll-on applicators, which will be easier to use. Also consider whether a product has a pump or flip-top cap that will make it easier to open. These options can all impact how easy it is to apply the cream, especially if you have limited mobility or dexterity in your hands.

Product size:

Consider the size of the product and how often you plan to use it. Some creams come in smaller packages and require more frequent application, while others come in larger bottles and may not need to be used as often. In short, cost per ounce is key — not just overall cost.

Cost:

Depending on the brand and ingredients, topical pain relievers can range from a few dollars to over $50. The price may also reflect the how much you get or a higher concentration of active ingredients.

Cooling:

Some arthritis creams provide a cooling sensation, which can be soothing for joint pain or inflammation. "In acute injuries, like falling in sports, ice is applied," Ahmad said. "This is because the goal is to prevent or reduce swelling from bleeding, thereby helping with pain." However, cooling may not be ideal for everyone, especially those who live in colder climates, have sensitive skin or have neuropathy (nerve damage that causes chronic numbness). "Be careful in people with diabetes who have decreased sensations due to neuropathy. For them, preferably use heat and limit it to 10 to 15 minutes with a 20-minute gap in between," Ahmad advised.

Warming:

“Chronic pains usually respond better to warmth, but if cold works better, there are no contraindications to this," Ahmad explained. Warming creams can help increase blood flow and relax muscles, making them popular for arthritis or muscle pain relief. However, they may not be suitable for sensitive skin or users with conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. As with cooling products, consider your skin type and sensitivity to warmth before purchasing a warming cream.

How we chose the best arthritis pain relief cream

To determine the best arthritis pain relief creams, we consulted with experts including doctors, chiropractors and physical therapists to learn more about the most effective over-the-counter ingredients for pain relief. We also researched and analyzed customer reviews, ingredients and product claims to ensure our recommendations are backed by evidence and user experience. Finally, we considered factors including cost, scent, consistency and potential side effects.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do arthritis pain relief creams work?

Arthritis creams are applied directly to the skin over painful joints, and they are absorbed through the skin to provide temporary pain relief. "The mechanism of action varies based on the ingredients in each cream," said Dr. Gendai Echezona, a triple board-certified anesthesiologist specializing in interventional pain management. Some creams work by blocking pain signals, while others may increase blood flow or reduce inflammation. "Anesthetics, such as lidocaine, block pain signals from nerves, inducing a numbing effect," Echezona said. "Counterirritants like menthol create a cooling or numbing sensation on the skin, potentially blocking pain sensation."

Are arthritis pain relief creams safe for everyone?

No. Some arthritis creams may contain ingredients that can irritate sensitive skin or cause allergic reactions. It's important to read the ingredient list carefully and consult your doctor if you have underlying health conditions or are taking other medications. Additionally, pregnant women and children shouldn't use certain topical pain relievers without first consulting with their doctor. Always follow the recommended usage and safety guidelines provided by the manufacturer.

What key ingredients should I look for in an arthritis pain relief cream?

Key ingredients include diclofenac, salicylate, menthol, capsaicin, lidocaine or CBD, Echezona said. "It’s important to note that individual responses to these treatments may vary. For instance, capsaicin or menthol may induce sensations like burning or cooling, which might be uncomfortable for some patients."

How often should I apply arthritis pain relief creams?

Many topical creams can be applied daily or even multiple times a day, Echezona said. "Each product comes with instructions regarding the recommended frequency of use." However, it's crucial to follow the instructions — overuse may increase the risk of side effects or decrease a cream's effectiveness. Ask your doctor for guidance if you have any questions about how often to use a particular cream.

Meet our expert panel

Dr. Gendai Echezona, fellowship-trained, triple board-certified anesthesiologist specializing in interventional pain management and lifestyle medicine

John Gallucci, physical therapist, athletic trainer, and chief executive officer of New Jersey-based JAG Physical Therapy

Matthew Cavanaugh, chiropractor at Cavanaugh Chiropractic Clinic in Lafayette, La.

Dr. Zeeshan Ahmad, pain and spine specialist at OSF HealthCare in Urbana, Ill.