If I were stranded on a desert island and could have one item from home to use for survival, I'd probably choose my foam roller—but only because I think it's against the rules to choose "my muscle rub collection" which consists not of one item, but of many, many, salves and creams and ointments, each worth their weight in gold (which, honestly, is probably what I paid for them, in the first place).
I can't be the only one whose favorite part of physical therapy was the myofascial release massage. My PT's fingers worked away any stiffness, ache, tension, or pain in the tissues surrounding my healing ACL. I was hooked. At home, a gentle muscle rub became my daily version of raking a Zen garden. The row of shiny tins and tubs at the organic goods store began to calling to me. Never mind that my PT uses a simple, clinical-looking cream. I opened my wallet. And now I have a collection that's out of this world and does wonders for tired, sore muscles after skiing. Here are my favorite products.
EMU Hot Spice & Ice
Emu oil is high in fatty acids, and so it's believed to reduce pain and inflammation. At first, I bought this one out of curiosity because say WHAT?! But it holds up. Ingredients include arnica, eucalyptus, wintergreen, peppermint, and capsicum. I love the end result: a buttery, silky smooth texture with a crisp—but not overpowering—smell. This particular product, made by the Montana Emu Ranch Company, happens to be local for me, but you can find it online here, and they even ship internationally to Canada.
Badger Balm Sore Muscle Rub
The founder of Badger Balm originally developed this rub to soothe sore muscles from his aikido martial arts practice, but it’s no niche product. The gentle rub is unique for its choice of primary warming ingredients: cayenne and ginger. Made in New Hampshire with an EVOO, castor seed oil, and beeswax base, this rub also contains therapeutic oils from lemongrass leaf, cardamom seed, rosemary leaf, and wild marjoram flower. It warms slowly, and the smell is lightly pleasant.
CBD-Infused Muscle Rub
This list wouldn't be complete without a nod to the newest trend in muscle rubs. There's scant peer-reviewed scientific data to support the healing powers of cannabis leaves infused in oil, but many athletes are hopeful about its potential to reduce pain and inflammation—plus, my mom swears by hers—so I'm not here to cry snake oil. While I'm no CBD proselytizer, I do enjoy one infused muscle rub called Skin Food, which has a lovely mango butter base, plus other standard ingredients like arnica and peppermint. If the cannabis infusion does indeed help, in whatever small way, I'm not upset. Skin Food isn't for sale on the Internet, but there are many, many CBD-infused rubs on the market. My two cents? Choose one you think you'd like on its own merit.
Tiger Balm Ultra Strength
The one! The only! I've always carried a little glass jar of Tiger Balm in my backcountry med kit, weight be damned. The overpowering smell may be a deterrent to some, but to me, I've come to associate it so strongly with healing that I think it may actually now be part of the magic. "Welcome to the Tiger Balm Lounge," I say to my housemates when they enter the living room during a muscle rub sesh.
(Hold up, am *I* the weird housemate?)
With two active ingredients, camphor and menthol, the paraffin oil-based rub also benefits from cajuput, cassia, clove, and mint oils. It warms rapidly, and I also use it to alleviate headaches and congestion. Bonus: there’s a number of nifty instructional self-massage videos on the TB website. I’ve recently tried Tiger Balm's specific pain relieving muscle cream, which is great, but just seems similar to Bengay. In my humble opinion, the OG Singaporean ointment will always be king.