The 6 Best Arthritis Creams of 2020

Sweet relief is on its way

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First Look

Best Overall: Biofreeze Professional Relief Aerosol Colorless at Amazon

"Its smooth consistency absorbs fast, and the rollerball helps massage the gel into affected areas."

Best Cream: Dr. Sayman’s Wonder Rub at Amazon

"It contains max strength lidocaine alongside a botanical blend that aims to desensitize aggravated nerves."

Best with Capsaicin: Capzasin HP’s Pain Relief Creme at Amazon

"Unlike other pain relievers, it is not masking the aches with other sensations."

Best Anti-Inflammatory: Tiger Balm Arthritis Rub at Amazon

"Dispensed from an easy-to-use arthritis-friendly pump, this anti-inflammatory topical lotion isn’t greasy and contains no skin-drying alcohol."

Best No-Mess Application: Salonpas Pain Relieving Patches at Amazon

"The adhesive is as strong as the pain relief and cooling sensation, so patches stay put for over five hours, according to multiple reviewers."

Best Homeopathic: Naturopathica Arnica Gel at Amazon

"Reviewers can’t say enough good things about this go-to natural product."

Arthritis is a debilitating and persistent condition. In 2012, an estimated 52.5 million people in the U.S. had arthritis or one of the rheumatic diseases. That number is expected to increase to nearly 80 million people by 2040.

The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which is a degenerative joint disease. It’s known as the “wear-and-tear” arthritis because it’s caused by the breakdown of cartilage in one or more joints.

Another common type of arthritis is bursitis, which is the inflammation of a bursa. Symptoms include pain, stiffness, limited range of motion, joint inflammation, creaking or grinding of the joints, and joint instability.

Both have effective, at-home treatment options to target arthritis pain quickly and easily. Options include over-the-counter creams, lotions, gels, and oils with anti-inflammatory, anesthetic, and additional properties to relieve pain.

“Topical medications for pain relief come in multiple forms—creams, gels, patches, etc.,” says Dena Barsoum, MD, a physiatrist at HSS. “Consider what body part you are applying it to and what form might work best for you. It’s always important to look closely at the active ingredients in any medication you use. Over-the-counter medications sometimes have very flashy packaging and make grand claims about what they can do."

“I always look at the active ingredients and their mechanism of action to see if it makes sense,” says Dr. Barsoum. “Some of these medications include numbing or anti-inflammatory chemicals and that’s how those work. Others include active ingredients, which can stimulate a warm sensation (like using a warm compress) or a cold sensation (like using an ice pack). Others contain other chemicals that can sort of distract you (and your body) from your pain. In general, pain at the neck, shoulders, elbow, hands, knees, ankles, and feet may be amenable to treatment with topical medications.”

However, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Product formulas include distinct active ingredients so each individual should test what works best for their arthritis symptoms and lifestyle.

Our Top Picks

1

Best Overall: Biofreeze Professional Relief Aerosol Colorless

Biofreeze comes with a clinically recommended seal, and it’s a longtime trusted brand for arthritis pain relief. The four-ounce colorless spray offers fast-acting relief and it might be the best version yet. Its smooth consistency absorbs fast. There is also a rollerball version that helps massage the gel into affected areas.

The active ingredient is menthol, which creates cooling sensations and temporary pain relief. It penetrates quickly to relieve pain on the back and all joints from the neck down to the ankle. The spray nozzle has continuous flow even when upside down to get those hard-to-reach aches. “Bottom line, if you're in pain and need something equal to ice on the go, this is the answer,” according to one customer. “It helps me totally forget the pain and lulls me into a deep sleep.”

2

Best Cream: Dr. Sayman’s Wonder Rub

Three powerful pain fighters give this creamy oil a punch. It contains max strength lidocaine alongside a botanical blend that aims to desensitize aggravated nerves. Together, they dull pain, reduce inflammation and swelling, and relieve stiff joints. “Lidocaine, a numbing medication, is a common ingredient in over-the-counter topical medications and can be very helpful. It comes in multiple forms, sometimes combined with other medications,” says Dr. Barsoum.

The time-tested formula has 150 plus years of history to its credit as well as positive reviews. Customers note the pleasant texture and efficient pain relief on hands, feet, and other achy areas. Arnica creates an instant cooling sensation, while hemp oil targets inflammation and cannabinoid receptors. It’s clear and has almost no odor.

3

Best with Capsaicin: Capzasin HP’s Pain Relief Creme

Capzasin HP’s Pain Relief Creme is a potent pain reliever and pleasantly unscented. It relies on capsaicin as the active ingredient. This chemical compound is derived from hot chili peppers, and research has shown it can help relieve pain.

Capsaicin works by lessening the neurotransmitter responsible for sending pain signals. Unlike other pain relievers, it is not masking the aches with other sensations. “Medications like capsaicin strictly block the pain nerves and the way that they work,” says Rochelle Rosian, MD, a staff member at Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Rheumatic and Immunologic Diseases.

However, heed customers’ advice and apply the cream with gloves to avoid getting the spicy active ingredient all over your hands, in your eyes, and on anything you touch.

4

Best Anti-Inflammatory: Tiger Balm Arthritis Rub

Containing a blend of natural herbal ingredients, Tiger Balm Arthritis Rub provides safe, fast, budget-friendly relief from arthritis joint pain and muscle aches. If you're experiencing symptoms like redness, warmth, and swelling, look for something with anti-inflammatory properties, like menthol and camphor, which are both ingredients in this product.

Dispensed from an easy-to-use arthritis-friendly pump, this anti-inflammatory topical lotion isn’t greasy and doesn't contain skin-drying alcohol. While it's typically used for deep pain relief, like sore muscles, it can also be used for superficial pain, like shingles.

5

Best No-Mess Application: Salonpas Pain Relieving Patches

These patches put all the pain-relieving ingredients right where you need them. It's a no muss, no fuss product with three powerful analgesics: camphor, menthol, methyl salicylate.

These patches are available in standard and large sizes, depending on what area you need to treat. Crafty customers also recommend trimming the patches into strips to pinpoint pain and avoid waste. The adhesive is as strong as the pain relief and cooling sensation, so patches stay put for over five hours, according to multiple customers. Dr. Barsoum says that “patches may be more convenient and less messy than creams or gels.”

6

Best Homeopathic: Naturopathica Arnica Gel

When other formulas don’t cut it, this luxe Naturopathica gel is worth every penny. The key ingredient is arnica, a prized herb known as "nature’s aspirin." Naturopathica’s product also contains menthol for a cooling effect and natural aroma and enriched with magnesium to improve muscle function.

Customers can’t say enough good things about this go-to natural product. Positive comments rave about quick results: “This is the only product that reduces swelling and allows me to move around and do all the things I love to do,” one reviewer wrote. Another added, “This is the most potent Arnica product I have found! It provides quick healing and lasting pain relief.”

A little goes a long way with this potent arnica-packed gel that’s gentle on skin and dries with a smooth, non-greasy finish.

Final Verdict

For a natural pain-reliever, the Naturopathic Arnica Gel is hard to beat. It’s the preferred product arthritis sufferers return to again and again for muscle aches, swelling, and joints. And for convenience, you can’t go wrong with the Biofreeze Professional Relief Aerosol Colorless for long-lasting relief and mess-free application. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. Dr. Rosian says, “I think you need to try and see what works best for you.”

What to Look for in an Arthritis Cream

Active Ingredients: There are several effective ingredients that relieve pain, inflammation, and stiffness in joints caused by arthritis. Topical anesthetics, like lidocaine, create a surface-level numbing effect wherever they're applied. Natural ingredients like menthol, camphor, eucalyptus oil, and cinnamon oil create hot and cold sensations on contact and have anti-inflammatory properties to soothe sore joints. The added sensation they create helps dull pain.

Package Design: The bottle or delivery system does matter, it’s not just a marketing ploy. When dealing with stiff joints from arthritis, fumbling around with a poorly-designed package is simply not worth the hassle. Doctors recommend patches over creams and gels to avoid messes. However, creams and gels in arthritis-friendly pumps and roll-ons can be just as convenient and allow complete control over the amount of product used.

Application: While rollers and patches may seem convenient, doctors say you may be missing out on one major benefit of using an arthritis cream: the massage. “The act of actually putting on some of these rubs may be, at least in part, why they’re helpful,” says Dr. Rosian. “Massaging the cream or gel in and moving around the joints helps with blood flow and modulating the pain around the area.”

Why Trust Verywell

As a seasoned health writer, Jennifer Nied understands how vital quality product recommendations are for treating symptoms safely and effectively at home. For over 10 years, she has reviewed products, interviewed experts, scrutinized ingredients, and pored over research studies and claims, to help readers like you understand what works for your specific conditions. Every product in this piece was selected taking into account recommendations from doctors, published research, and real customer reviews.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hootman JM, Helmick CG, Barbour KE, Theis KA, Boring MA. Updated projected prevalence of self-reported doctor-diagnosed arthritis and arthritis-attributable activity limitation among US adults, 2015-2040Arthritis Rheumatol. 2016;68(7):1582-1587. doi:10.1002/art.39692

  2. NIH PubChem. Compound summary: Capsaicin.