Using Icy Hot for Muscle Pain

Product variations and how they work

In This Article

Icy Hot is a topical pain reliever used for minor arthritis pain, aching joints, and sore muscles. It's available over-the-counter as 18 different products with 10 different formulations. Depending on the Icy Hot product you purchase, it can be applied to the affected body part with a patch, cream, gel spray, stick, or sleeve.

How Icy Hot Works

The active ingredients in Icy Hot formulations are menthol or a combination of menthol and methyl salicylate (aspirin). Some formulations also contain camphor, and others lidocaine (a topical anesthetic). The ingredients cause a cooling sensation followed by a warming sensation ("icy" then "hot") that helps bring pain relief.

All formulations are suggested by the manufacturer for relief of minor pain associated with arthritis, simple backache, bursitis, tendonitis, muscle soreness, strains, sprains, bruises, or cramps. All products are for external use only.

There have been few studies of such patches to prove their clinical usefulness, and those that have been performed are of poor quality.

Precautions

Read the ingredients on the label, as they are different for similar-sounding Icy Hot products. Some concentrations are stronger than others.

The warnings on the label of all of the formulations of Icy Hot state the following:

  • Use only as directed.
  • Avoid contact with eyes or mucous membranes.
  • Do not apply to wounds or irritated, broken, or damaged skin.
  • Do not bandage tightly or use with a heating pad.
  • If you are prone to allergy from aspirin or salicylates, consult a doctor before using the formulations that contain methyl salicylate.

In September 2012, the FDA warned consumers that topical pain relievers may cause first-to-third degree chemical burns where the product was applied. The topical pain relievers (creams, ointments, lotions, and patches) may include menthol, methyl salicylate, lidocaine, or capsaicin.

All Icy Hot products say that they are for adults and should not be worn by children under the age of 12 unless approved by the child's doctor.

Icy Hot Patches

The Icy Hot Patch has 5% menthol on an adhesive pad that is applied to the affected area, with different sizes available for back, arm, neck, or leg. An Icy Hot Patch can be worn for up to eight hours. Repeat up to three times daily.

Two other products, the Micro Patch and Advanced Relief Patch, have 7.5% menthol. The Micro Patch and Advanced Relief Patch may be worn for 12 hours, applied once per day.

The Icy Hot Lidocaine Patch has 4% lidocaine and 1% menthol. It can be worn for up to 12 hours, but you should wear only one patch on your body at a time.

Icy Hot Sleeve

The Icy Hot Sleeve has 16% menthol in lotion on a flexible sleeve pad. The sleeve expands to fit 8 to 24 inches in circumference. The sleeve is generally used for the ankle, elbow, and knee joints.

You can apply a sleeve up to four times daily. Follow directions for applying the sleeve correctly.

Icy Hot Balm

Icy Hot Balm contains 7.6% menthol and 29% methyl salicylate, which are higher concentrations than other Icy Hot products (the label says the balm is "extra strength.")

The product is applied to the affected area, massaged in until absorbed, and repeated up to four times daily. The balm is available in a 3.5-ounce jar.

Icy Hot No Mess

Icy Hot No Mess has a roll-on applicator. It is quick-drying and does not stain. The 2.5-ounce bottle contains 16% menthol as the active ingredient (a lidocaine formula is also available.)

Apply to the affected area and massage into the skin. Repeat up to four times a day.

Icy Hot Spray

Icy Hot Spray is a continuous spray formulation containing 16% menthol. The product dries quickly, so there is no need to massage it in after you spray the affected area. You can repeat up to three or four times daily.

The product carries warnings about it being flammable; do not use this when smoking or near heat or a flame. Read the label for further instructions.

Icy Hot Power Gel

Icy Hot Power Gel is a fast-acting, quick-drying formula with 16% menthol.

Directions state the product should be applied generously to the affected area, massaged into the skin, and repeated up to three or four times a day.

Icy Hot Vanishing Scent

Icy Hot Vanishing Scent comes in a 2.5-ounce tube with a sponge applicator. The active ingredient is 2.5% menthol. Directions state that the product should be squeezed onto the affected area. Then, using the sponge applicator, it should be massaged in until absorbed.

It can be repeated up to a maximum of four times a day. The scent disappears quickly after application.

Icy Hot Cream

Icy Hot Cream is a non-greasy formulation that works immediately on contact. The regular version's active ingredients are 10% menthol and 30% methyl salicylate; Icy Hot Advanced Cream instead contains 11% camphor and 16% menthol, two higher concentrations for "max pain" relief. A lidocaine cream formula is also available with 4% lidocaine and 1% menthol.

The product should be applied to the affected area, massaged in to promote absorption, and repeated up to four times daily.

Icy Hot Cream comes in two sizes—a 3-ounce or 1.25-ounce tube.

Icy Hot Stick

Icy Hot Stick contains 10% menthol and 30% methyl salicylate as the active ingredients. As with the balm, these are higher concentrations labeled "extra strength."

Apply the product to the affected area and massage in until absorbed. Repeat up to four times a day. It is available in a 1.75-ounce stick.

Icy Hot Arthritis Lotion

This comes in a pump bottle and is labeled for arthritis relief, but can also be used for muscle pain like other Icy Hot products. It has 4% menthol and 16% camphor concentrations and claims to be safe when combined with oral arthritis medications.

Apply to the affected area and massage in up to four times daily.

A Word From Verywell

Icy Hot continues to innovate its delivery systems. These formulations are likely to change over time, with new ones added, old ones renamed, and less-popular forms discontinued. You may find store brands that are similar to Icy Hot, such as Walgreen's store brand Cool N Heat products. Compare those products for price and ingredients.

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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. Lisi DM. OTC transdermal analgesic patches in pain management. US Pharmacist. 2019;44(3):15-21.

  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA Drug Safety Communication: Rare Cases of Serious Burns with the Use of Over-the-Counter Topical Muscle and Joint Pain Relievers. Content current as of February 11, 2016.

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