The first time I brought home a tub of Penetrex and set it on my nightstand, my husband laughed (yes, I know — the name, not to mention my preference of keeping it bedside, makes it seem like it’d be for something more thrilling than muscle and joint aches). Over the years, I’ve tried many other pain relief topicals with varying actives and much more demure names — but Penetrex is one that I always seem to return to for my run-of-the-mill back and neck aches. I started to think of it as my (saucy sounding) secret weapon. That’s why I was both surprised and validated to realize it recently surpassed 15,000 positive ratings on Amazon. This got me curious, so I decided to look into how Penetrex works and what other reviewers are saying about it.
What Is Penetrex?
- Designed to help relieve muscle and joint pain
- Safe to use daily (according to the brand)
- Available in cream and roll-on formulations
- Active ingredients include arnica, vitamin B6, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), and frankincense oil
- Cruelty free and dermatologist tested
Designed to provide both immediate and long-term relief for muscle and joint pain, Penetrex relies on a largely plant-based formula that the brand deems safe for everyday use. This makes it a good alternative to prescription and over-the-counter creams with more heavy-duty ingredients.
“Many topical pain creams contain NSAIDs (or ‘non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs’) such as Ketoprofen or Diclofenac,” says Igor Smelyansky, MD, a Knoxville-based physician who is double board-certified in neurology and pain management. “Those medications have serious side effects when used for a prolonged period of time.”
Dr. Smelyansky adds, “On the other hand, Penetrex Joint & Muscle Therapy Cream does not contain those drugs and is a lot safer. I frequently recommend [it] to my own patients suffering from musculoskeletal pain in my pain management practice.”
One of the key actives in Penetrex is arnica, a perennial plant that’s been used medicinally for over 500 years. When applied topically, it can help relieve muscle aches and minimize inflammation (it’s also frequently used for sprains and bruises). Penetrex also features vitamin B6 and frankincense oil.
Of course, you should see a doctor — if you haven’t already — for any chronic or unusual pain, or if you have an injury (don’t just slather some Penetrex on it). You should also talk your doctor before trying a pain relief cream if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. And, while Penetrex is generally considered to be safe, it’s best to do a small patch test before trying it to ensure you don’t have a skin irritation.
How Do You Use Penetrex?
I’m sometimes guilty of not reading instructions carefully (especially when I’m in pain). And it turns out that I had been using Penetrex all wrong. I was just applying it once a day when I needed it — but the brand actually recommends applying it three to four times a day for the first seven to 10 days. And beyond that, you can apply it only as needed.
While I was still getting a degree of quick relief from my lazy application regimen, many reviewers emphasized that you’ll get the most out of Penetrex if you use it exactly as instructed. Now that I know better, I’m doing it the “right” way, and so far I really do see the difference from applying it repeatedly throughout the day. I don’t feel ready to do cartwheels, but it has taken the edge off my pain in a way that makes it much less distracting.
I haven’t tried the Penetrex roll-on, but what I like about the cream is that it absorbs into skin pretty quickly and it doesn’t leave a greasy residue or cause a burning sensation. And, while some pain relief topicals can have an overpowering medicinal scent, the Penetrex cream has a mildly minty fragrance that gradually fades. With its fluffy, whipped texture, a little goes a long way (which is a good thing, considering it’s meant to be reapplied multiple times a day that first week).
What Are Reviewers Saying?
Everybody is different, which means there’s no guarantee that Penetrex will work for you. That said, the consensus on Amazon is overwhelmingly positive. Some reviewers even noted that they’d tried every other topical and have found Penetrex to be the best pain relief cream for their conditions (some causes of reviewer pain included rheumatoid arthritis, cervical degenerative disk disease, fibromyalgia, herniated discs, bone spurs, plantar fasciitis, and tendinitis).
Here is a sampling of what some reviewers have written about Penetrex:
“I swear by [Penetrex]. I have pain from multiple leg surgeries and arthritis in my legs, but Penetrex really eases the discomfort!” — Brian
“I have severe osteoarthritis and the pain is quite bad (need my shoulder replaced). While this doesn’t get rid of all the pain (even steroid shots don’t at this point) it definitely makes a positive difference. Love the roll on and the fact that it dries quickly.” — Amazon Customer
“This a great product for pain relief and range of motion. The scent disappears quickly. I use this 2 times per day. It’s the first joint and muscle therapy that actually works.” — MaggieS1
“I’ve tried it all: blue emu, icy hot, aspercreme, bengay, salon pas etc. Which also helped a bit for an hour or two. Penetrex is by far the [best]! […] My issue was relieved a bit on first application and got increasingly better with each [subsequent] one.” — Michelle Collie Mom
“I followed the instructions and put it on 4 times a day. ANDD WOW! Three days later I’m in shock! I can sleep through the night without waking in pain […] I’m able to go throughout the day and not take so many breaks! I’m absolutely stunned. It’s cut my inflammatory med taking in less than half […] It’s the most relief I’ve ever gotten with my joints my entire life. I could cry now but not from pain but for hope!” — Stephanie
Igor Smelyansky, MD, is double board-certified in neurology and pain management. He is the owner of Omega Pain Management, a private pain management clinic in Knoxville, TN.
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