Using Icy Hot for Muscle Pain

Product variations and how they work

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Icy Hot is a topical pain reliever used for minor arthritis pain, aching joints, sprains, bruises, cramps, and sore muscles. It's available over-the-counter as 14 different products with 8 different formulations. Depending on the Icy Hot product you purchase, it can be applied to the affected body part as a patch, cream, gel, dry spray, stick, or sleeve.

Uses

The active ingredients in Icy Hot formulations are either menthol alone or a combination of menthol and methyl salicylate or menthol and camphor, or menthol and lidocaine (a topical anesthetic). These ingredients cause a cooling sensation followed by a warming sensation ("icy" then "hot") that relieves pain.

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

Only a few studies have been conducted to investigate the clinical usefulness of such patches, and most of them have been of poor quality.

Before Using

Read the ingredients on the label, as they are different for similar-sounding Icy Hot products. Some concentrations are stronger than others. All Icy Hot products say that they are for adults and should not be used by children under the age of 12 unless approved by the child's doctor.

Precautions

The warnings on the label of the Icy Hot products 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.
  • do not apply to skin folds
  • do not expose the treated area to direct sunlight or heat
  • In the case of a severe burning sensation, discontinue immediately.

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.

Formulations and Dosages

There are a wide range of different products under the Icy Hot brand.

Icy Hot Back Patch

The Icy Hot Back Patch has 5% menthol on an adhesive pad that is applied to the affected area, with different sizes (regular and XL) available for back and large areas. An Icy Hot Back Patch can be worn for up to eight hours. Repeat up to three times daily.

Another product, the Advanced Relief Patch, has 7.5% menthol and can be worn for up to 12 hours, once daily.

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 for up to eight hours and up to three 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 is a roll-on applicator. It is quick-drying and does not stain. The 2.5-ounce bottle contains 16% menthol as the active ingredient. Apply to the affected area and massage into the skin. Repeat up to four times a day.

Another formulation (Icy Hot Lidocaine No Mess) is also available, which contains 4% lidocaine and 1% menthol. Apply to the affected area every 6-8 hours up to three times daily.

Icy Hot Dry 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.

Another formulation (Icy Hot Lidocaine Dry spray) is available, which contains 4% lidocaine and 1% menthol. Spray the product on the affected area every 6-8 hours up to three times daily.

These products are extremely flammable; do not use them when smoking or near heat or a flame. Read their labels for further instructions.

Icy Hot Power Gel

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

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

Icy Hot Vanishing Scent Gel

Icy Hot Vanishing Scent comes in a 2.5-ounce tube with a sponge-top 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.

There are three different versions of this cream:

  • Icy Hot Cream contains 10% menthol and 30% methyl salicylate and is available in 1.25-ounce and 3-ounce tubes.
  • Icy Hot Advanced Cream contains 11% camphor and 16% menthol, two higher concentrations for "max pain" relief. This is available in a 2-ounce tube.
  • Icy Hot Lidocaine Cream contains 4% lidocaine and 1% menthol. It is available in 1.75-ounce and 2.7-ounce tubes.

The products should be applied to the affected area, massaged in to promote absorption, and repeated 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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