When it comes to soothing sore muscles, sports balms are a bust, according to Lon Castle, M.D., an instructor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
"The heat generated during the process of applying it probably helps more than the cream itself," says Dr. Castle.
The balm's heating effect, caused by menthol compounds, reaches the skin, but does not penetrate any deeper. "Menthol increases blood flow to the skin but does not help in healing the muscles," Dr. Castle explains.
If you do find some relief from using the balm, it won't do any harm. But for a truly sore muscle, Dr. Castle recommends icing an injured muscle for 15 to 20 minutes.
Then remove the ice for 30 minutes, and reapply it for another 15 to 20 minutes. The next morning apply heat for 15 minutes, then repeat the icing routine at night. Do this morning-heat and evening-ice routine for two to three days, and your aching muscles should start to feel better. (If not, it's time to see your doctor.)