Top Docs: Tiger Balm is one of the safest and most effective forms of pain relief and costs just pennies per use!

Sometimes the old cures are the best cures, and that seems to be the case with Tiger Balm, which has been relieving pain for more than a century. The most amazing thing about topical pain relievers is that they work in a completely different way than nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil, and also quite different from almost every other topical pain reliever on the market. And this difference offers unique advantages both in terms of speed and effectiveness of pain relief, and in terms of side effects.

What is Tiger Balm?

Tiger balm

Tiger balm was formulated by a Chinese herbalist named Aw Chu Kin in the 1870s. And while there are now a myriad of different formulations including ointments, rubs, patches, liquids, sprays, and gels available at drugstores and through online retailers, the ingredients haven’t changed much over time. Tiger balm formulations typically include camphor, menthol, capsicum extract, methyl salicylate, and essential oils such as cassia, cajuput, clove, and eucalyptus oil.

How does Tiger Balm compare to other pain medications?

Unlike anti-inflammatory products like Voltaren arthritis cream and over-the-counter oral medications like ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, tiger balm isn’t an anti-inflammatory. Tiger Balm appears to work by having a counter-irritant effect on the nervous system, explains Jeff Gross, MD, clinical associate professor of rehabilitation medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. It stimulates nerves in the skin, causing a cooling or warming effect, which masks the underlying pain from deeper tissues in that part of the body.

Simply put: Tiger Balm’s ingredients work together to increase blood flow to the area it’s applied to and create warm and cool sensations on the skin. This decreases the perception of pain in the area where the balm was applied.

Since the brain is unable to register painful stimuli and sensations such as intense heat or cold at the same time, the sensations produced by applying tiger balm essentially override the sensations of pain due to an underlying muscle strain or injury.

Does Tiger Balm Really Change Skin Temperature?

However, despite the hot and cold sensations it elicits, Tiger Balm does not significantly change the actual temperature of the skin or muscle being targeted. It just seems so, says Elizabeth Gardner, MD, associate professor of orthopedic surgery and rehabilitation at Yale University School of Medicine. But by dulling the sensitivity of these deeper pain receptors, there is less activation of these nerves and therefore of the muscles [that are] in spasm they are relaxed, which also reduces pain sensations.

Tiger balm is often compared to another pain reliever cream, Icy Hot. And while studies haven’t compared Tiger Balm and Icy Hot, the two brands have similar ingredients. Some formulations of Icy Hot contain ingredients similar to Tiger Balm, namely menthol and camphor, while others contain lidocaine, a topical anesthetic that relieves pain by numbing the skin and surrounding tissue.

What is tiger balm used for?

There are many possible uses for the product, but it is most commonly used for chronic or acute musculoskeletal discomfort from arthritis; muscle strains and sprains; or pain in the neck, back, or shoulder. Tiger balm can be effective for relieving musculoskeletal aches and pains, which is why it has been a staple in training rooms and locker rooms for years, says Dr. gardner. For me, Tiger Balman and other topical pain relievers are an important part of the multimodal approach to keeping athletes active and in play. In my experience, most athletes would rather avoid pills, and so these topical remedies are very appealing.

Dr. Gross agrees: Side effect rates are low with Tiger Balm. It is safer than oral medications for body aches and pains. An added bonus: Using topical remedies like this one can reduce the use of oral medications that can have their own side effects, especially with frequent use.

Does tiger balm help in healing?

While the use of tiger balm may help relieve pain, the chemical properties of tiger balm cannot penetrate deep enough into muscles, joints or nerves to cause substantial healing, says Harrison Linder, MD, specialist in pain management at the Center for Interventional Pain Medicine at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. In other words, it will not cure an injury or subcutaneous condition.

It won’t fix severe arthritis, pinched nerve, or spinal stenosis, however, it can provide temporary relief by stimulating nerves near the skin and either blocking pain signals or distracting you from pain signals long enough for your body to heal. Dr. Linder adds. And the temporary relief from pain caused by injured muscles and inflamed tissue in a particular area can be quite valuable in some cases.

How effective is Tiger Balm?

There have not been many recent studies on the effectiveness of tiger balm. But research has found that using it can temporarily relieve muscle pain, and one study even found it can relieve tension headaches. Meanwhile, a 2010 study found that people with mild to moderate muscle strains who used a patch containing methyl salicylate and menthol (two of tiger balm’s key ingredients) experienced a 40 percent reduction in pain, compared to those who used a placebo patch. .

The good news is that topical pain relievers like tiger balm take effect within minutes and can provide pain relief for a few hours, she says. Sonali Khandelwal, MDassociate professor of medicine at RUSH University Medical Center in Chicago.

Expert tip to make tiger balm twice as effective

You can double the pain-relieving power of tiger balm if you keep it in the refrigerator, recommends Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, a Hawaii-based integrative medicine specialist and author of Pain Free 1-2-3: A proven program to get rid of chronic pain right away. Pain signals and cold signals run on the same nerve fibers, a bit like a telephone line, explains Dr. Teitelbaum. By using cold tiger balm on an area that is sore, it can deliver a one-two punch to pain signals in a way that provides faster and greater relief.

The safest way to use tiger balm

Tiger balm should be used no more frequently than three to four times a day, warns Dr. Gardner. Using it more often can lead to skin irritations, such as redness, itching, or a stinging or stinging sensation. Expert consensus: When used as directed, tiger balm is generally safe and well tolerated.

One caveat: Tiger balm shouldn’t be used on irritated, sunburned, and chapped skin, as the ingredients can cause further irritation, warns Dr. Linder. It should also not be used on open wounds or damaged skin, and the manufacturer advises against using it before a shower or bath and waiting 30 minutes after a bath for application.

To make sure Tiger Balm agrees with you, especially if you have sensitive skin, Dr. Gardner recommends testing it on a small area of ​​skin, like the inside of your elbow, before applying it liberally.

I recommend people wash their hands after applying it or wear gloves when applying it so you don’t risk getting it in your eyes, says Dr. Khandelwal. If that were to happen, you would be trading one form of pain for another that is the opposite of what you want!

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your doctor before pursuing any treatment plan.

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