5 Best Anti-Inflammatory Creams Over The Counter

Disclaimer: This article is for informational and educational purposes only and does not substitute professional medical advice. It is important to always consult a medical professional for any health issues.

When a wound becomes swollen, turns red, and hurts, it may be a sign of inflammation. In general, inflammation is the body’s immune system’s response to protect itself against harm. [1] There are two types of inflammation, which are acute and chronic. 

An example of acute inflammation is when you cut your finger or bang your knee. When these things happen, your immune system dispatches a group of white blood cells to surround and protect the affected area, creating visible redness and swelling. The same process works when you have an infection, such as the flu or pneumonia. In these settings, inflammation is important because, without it, injuries could aggravate, and simple infections can become deadly. [1]

Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, occurs in response to unwanted substances in the body, like an excess of fat cells or toxins from cigarette smoke. Inflammation inside the arteries helps kick off atherosclerosis, or the buildup of fatty, cholesterol-rich plaque. The body distinguishes this plaque as foreign and abnormal, so it tries to wall it off from the flowing blood. However, when that wall breaks down, the plaque may break, and its contents will mix with blood, creating a clot that blocks the blood flow, which is mostly responsible for heart attacks and strokes. [1]

Inflammation can be the source of immense pain, and anyone who has experienced this discomfort will certainly agree. Whether it be from arthritis, sore muscles, joint pain, fibromyalgia, or any other inflammation-induced condition, the pain puts a damper on your life. Fortunately, there are numerous anti-inflammatory creams over the counter you can buy to reduce inflammation and lessen pain. The only problem is that some products are effective, while others simply don’t work as advertised.

If you are looking for reliable anti-inflammatory creams that you can buy over the counter, we are here to help you. Read on as we give you more information and a few recommendations to find the best anti-inflammatory cream for your needs.

What are Anti-Inflammatory Creams?

woman putting some cream on her hand

Anti-inflammatory creams can also be referred to as topical anti-inflammatory painkillers. They are available as gels, gel patches, sprays, and foams. Most of them contain anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen, felbinac, diclofenac, ketoprofen, and piroxicam, and they come in different brand names. [2]

When anti-inflammatory medicines are taken by mouth, they work by blocking the effect of chemicals called cyclo-oxygenase (COX) enzymes. These enzymes help in making other chemicals referred to as prostaglandins, which are involved in the production of pain and inflammation in the affected area. Therefore, a reduction in prostaglandin production can reduce pain and inflammation. [2]

Anti-inflammatory creams work the same way. However, instead of having an effect on the whole body, they only work on the specific area to which they are applied. When you apply them, they are absorbed into your skin, moving deeper into parts of the body where there is inflammation, such as your muscle. These creams relieve pain and reduce swelling affecting joints and muscles when rubbed into the skin over the affected area. [2]

Different Types of Anti-Inflammatory Creams

Different Types of Anti-Inflammatory Creams

Before you go out to buy an anti-inflammatory cream or order online, it is important to learn about the different types available in the market. Below are some of the common anti-inflammatory creams that you might encounter when choosing one:

Topical NSAIDs

Over-the-counter topical NSAIDs are commonly in gel form and mostly used in treating arthritis pain in the knees, feet, hands, and elbows. However, if you prefer something other than a gel, there are other NSAID options available, but a prescription from your doctor is needed. [3]

Capsaicin Creams

These creams are over-the-counter products that are used for mild joint and muscle pains. They are made using the ingredient found in chili peppers. Capsaicin creams work by reducing inflammation and interfering with substance P, a chemical that is involved in pain sensation. It also acts as a counterirritant, activating and desensitizing pain sensors. This type of anti-inflammatory cream is available in both brand-name and lower-cost generic options. [3]

Menthol Creams

Menthol creams are also examples of OTC anti-inflammatory creams that can be used for mild muscle or joint pain. It affects inflammation and acts as a counterirritant, like capsaicin. There are lots of brand-name and generic menthol creams that you can buy in the market and online. Their strengths can range from 1% to 12%, but some can be stronger. [3]

There are also products wherein menthol is combined with other medications, such as camphor, methyl salicylate, or cannabidiol. Some examples of products are Bengay cream and Icy Hot cream. There are also menthol patches that are available over the counter.

Homeopathic Creams

There are some homeopathic creams that are marketed as over-the-counter products, and they are mainly used for arthritis and joint pain. It is a type of alternative medicine with the principle of “like cures like.” This means that most of them are made with diluted amounts of ingredients that can cause the same symptoms they treat. However, based on health experts, there is not enough evidence to support using these medicines. Some people, on the other hand, say they have success using these products. But of course, it is very important to talk to your doctor first before using this type of product. [3]

person applying cream on the hand

Effectiveness and Risks of Anti-Inflammatory Creams

Based on research, anti-inflammatory creams, excluding homeopathic medications, are almost as effective as oral medications. The great thing about them is that you can apply the cream directly where the pain or inflammation is. Therefore, compared to oral medications, anti-inflammatory creams do not get in other places in your body, preventing side effects. This makes it a good option for older adults, people with stomach or heart problems, and for those who are generally sensitive to medications.

In terms of risks, it depends on the specific anti-inflammatory cream that you are using. But some of the common side effects of these products may include irritation, redness, and burning in the application area. To know the risks and side effects, asking a healthcare provider on a product-by-product basis may help. But generally, a lack of side effects is a perk of a lot of topical medications. [3]

Examples of Anti-Inflammatory Creams on the Market

athlete applying cream on her foot

There are indeed various types of anti-inflammatory creams that you can purchase over the counter today, and they also come in different brands. Choosing the best one for your needs will depend on your preferences and intended use. But to help you choose, we have listed some examples of anti-inflammatory creams to give you some ideas on what is available in the market today.

Motrin Arthritis Pain Relief Anti-Inflammatory Cream

This is a fragrance-free anti-inflammatory diclofenac sodium topical gel that is used to relieve arthritis pain. It also works to reduce inflammation associated with arthritis, as well as to reduce joint stiffness. It is a type of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that can be used on the hands, elbows, wrists, feet, and ankles. 

You just need to apply this product to the affected area. However, note that it is not for immediate relief, and it may take up to 7 days for effective pain relief. But it can be used up to 4 times per day but should not be used on more than 2 body parts at the same time.

Biofreeze Pain Relief Gel

Biofreeze Pain Relief Gel is great for joint pains such as arthritis as well as common joint and muscle pains that come from exercise. The product claims to be the number 1 clinically used and recommended topical analgesic.

It is also widely used by professionals in the fitness industry for exercise-related pains and discomforts. Chiropractors, massage therapists, athletic trainers, podiatrists, and physical therapists commonly use Biofreeze for fast relief for their clients. If you exercise a good amount or are prone to physical labor at your job, this particular cream would be worthwhile to try.

Biofreeze is also known to use natural and powerful concoctions of natural extracts. The formula is free of parabens and propylene glycol as it is made with USP-grade ingredients as well. Upon application, the cream penetrates the dermis and deeply relieves the stressed muscles and joints.

Topricin Pain Relief Therapy Cream

Topricin Pain Relief Therapy Cream is by far one of the most versatile anti-inflammatory creams over the counter. It can be used for tendinitis, leg cramps, heel spurs, back pain, soreness, and just about everything in between.

There are 11 natural bio-medicines that make up Topricin which is why it is so versatile to begin with. Each bio-medicine is designed to treat one particular aspect of inflammation and soreness in order to aid the healing process as effectively and efficiently as possible.

The product also is great because it has very few side effects. Topricin pain relief therapy cream does not have any side effects that will interfere with other medications, and as a result, it is a great alternative for people who cannot take OTC oral pain medications. The ingredients are of the utmost quality as well. Made in the USA, there are no real fillers are additives that will dilute the potency of the active ingredients.

Outback Pain Relief

Outback Pain Relief is another versatile over-the-counter anti-inflammatory cream for all aches, pains, and soreness. The product prides itself on harvesting the most potent extracts that the luscious Australian habitat has to offer. It surprisingly only consists of 5 ingredients which include Australian tea tree oil, blue mallee, eucalyptus oil, olive oil, and vanilla. These 5 ingredients, when used in conjunction, create a powerful bond that gives Outback Pain Relief its edge.

This particular cream is also known to provide nonstop relief for hours on end. However, most products only last for an hour or so, but then their effects begin to die off. Outback Pain Relief, on the other hand, can leave you feeling relieved from the beginning of the day to the end. To apply the stick, simply rub the stick on the inflamed area until the gel covers the aggravated area. From there, you may massage the mixture into the skin until it becomes absorbed.

Penetrex Pain Relief Therapy

Penetrex Pain Relief Therapy’s formula is so effective, in fact, that many companies try to emulate it. You can use Penetrex for inflamed muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints. This cream is unique since you can use less of it as your condition improves. 

As you continue to use the cream, over time, you need fewer and fewer applications as the relief becomes more permanent from frequent use. Users report this effect as more “efficient relief” relative to other products of its kind. To apply the cream, take an appropriate scoop out of the container and massage the cream into your skin until it is completely absorbed into the skin. You will begin to feel the effects soon after.


Using over-the-counter anti-inflammatory creams can help in relieving the pain that you feel from various conditions, such as arthritis, sprains, muscle and joint aches, and more. Compared to oral medications, they are also much safer, as they are only applied topically on the affected area. This means that most of these creams do not have any side effects. 

However, just like taking medicines or using any other product for your body, reaching out to your doctor is still important. Keep in mind that OTC creams can only provide relief from pains caused by inflammation. You still need to talk to your doctor if the inflammation persists or worsens to be able to cure what’s causing it. We hope this post helped you learn more about finding the best anti-inflammatory creams over the counter.


[1] Harvard Health Publishing, E. (2021, April 12). What is inflammation? Harvard Health. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-disease/ask-the-doctor-what-is-inflammation

[2] Rull, D. G. (2018, March 26). Topical anti-inflammatory painkillers: Uses and side effects. Patient.info. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from https://patient.info/treatment-medication/painkillers/topical-anti-inflammatory-painkillers

[3] Rao, H. (2022, June 28). Anti-inflammatory creams for pain relief. GoodRx. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from https://www.goodrx.com/classes/nsaids/topical-nsaids-pain-inflammation-need-to-know