Herbal muscle rubs help relieve pain and improve circulation. Commercial creams and oils for pain use menthol, methyl salicylate, camphor, clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus, rosemary and other herbs that have analgesic properties. You can purchase herbal muscle rubs or make your own, as most of these herbs are available as essential oils.
Menthol is the principal component of peppermint and has significant analgesic and antiseptic properties. Menthol enhances the absorption of other ingredients into your skin, so it's important to be aware of the other ingredients in your muscle rub. Cinnamon, ginger and clove are available as essential oils. They are warming herbs and increase local circulation. Clove is also slightly anesthetic in its effects. Eucalyptus and rosemary have analgesic, antioxidant and antimicrobial actions. Arnica is used for muscle pain relief.
Methyl salicylate is oil of wintergreen, used in hundreds of over-the-counter products including mouthwash, toothpaste, mints, and creams for pain relief. It is toxic in small amounts and should never be swallowed. It is related to aspirin and isn't advisable for anyone who is sensitive to aspirin.
Camphor is extracted from the camphor laurel tree. It is highly toxic and even in small amounts can be dangerous for children. Other herbs are safer and just as effective, so it is probably better not to use these ingredients in your muscle rub.
Sports massage oils
Sports massage oils, used for muscle pain, use vegetable oils such as olive or almond oil as the base ingredient for herbal muscle rubs. To make your own muscle rub, you can simply add 10 drops of essential oil to 4 oz. of any cold-pressed vegetable oil from the health food store. Stir to blend and store in a cool, dark place between uses.
Menthol oil is the most effective, but you can add others as well for their warming and antiseptic qualities. If you have access to fresh leaves of mint or eucalyptus, rinse and dry them thoroughly. Then, crush them slightly and fill an 8 oz. jar with the leaves. Add enough oil to fill the jar, cover and store in a cool, dark place. In a week, or whenever the oil is very fragrant, strain it and discard the leaves.
Cream Muscle Rub
Cream and lotion are emulsions of oil and water containing an emulsifier, such as beeswax or lecithin, to keep the mixture stable. Cream has less water than lotion. The beeswax or lecithin and oil or oils are melted together and then whipped with the water and essential oils until cool. You can find many recipes for lotion or cream online or in books about herbal preparations. Add the essential oils of your choice to the basic recipe for cream or lotion and you have your own herbal rub.
Keep your muscle rubs out of the reach of children. Pregnant or lactating women should not use products with camphor or methyl salicylate. None of these essential oils should be applied full-strength to your skin, and they should not be taken orally. If you have a chronic or serious illness, discuss these ingredients with your physician before deciding what to use in your muscle rub.
- Innovations Report: Adding menthol to topical creams for osteoarthritis provides significant pain relief
- British Journal of Dermatology: Accelerated Resolution of Laser-Induced Bruising With Topical 20% Arnica
- "Clin J Pain;" A novel treatment of postherpetic neuralgia using peppermint oil; Davies SJ, Harding LM, Baranowski AP; May-June 2002
- "Microbios;" Antibacterial and antifungal activity of ten essential oils in vitro; Pattnaik S, Subramanyam VR, Kole C; 1996;86(349):237-46
- "Clin Ther"; Efficacy and Safety Profile of a Topical Methyl Salicylate and Menthol Patch in Adult Patients With Mild to Moderate Muscle Strain; Higashi Y, Kiuchi T, Furuta K; Jan 2010