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How do Menthol Rubs Work? Pain Relief vs. Pain Masking

How do Menthol Rubs Work? Pain Relief vs. Pain Masking

You're considering menthol to treat your pain, or maybe you already use it regularly. Whether you're dealing with a temporary injury or chronic discomfort, there's a question on your mind:


Will that menthol product relieve your pain, or simply mask the feeling?


There’s no shortage of creams and rubs available to treat your various aches and pains. They go by different names and appeal to different sources of authority – be it “biology” or the mysteries of Eastern medicine. These miracle salves are purportedly just what you need to fix up sports injuries or combat lasting pain.  However, the truth is that the chemical that these ointments most rely on is also used to freshen your breath, relieve your nasal congestion, and add a tingle to cigarettes. Menthol may be minty fresh, but is it actually helping you recover?

Over 50 years ago, scientists Ronald Melzack and Patrick D Wall introduced ‘the gate control theory of pain’ under the title “Pain Mechanisms: A New Theory” in the 1965 publication of Science. The concept of ‘gate control’ theory is fairly simple, and widely recognized as common knowledge. The gate control theory of pain essentially states that pain signals must pass through a ‘gate’ in the spinal dorsal horn. When the gate is open, the signals pass through to the brain, and you perceive the sensation of pain. With the gate closed, however, the pain signals cannot reach the brain. Even though the source of pain is still present, you cannot perceive pain with this gate closed.

Menthol rubs, patches, and creams use the technical elements of gate control theory to ‘close’ that gate. When pain is signaled in your body, the signals travel along nerve fibers until they reach your brain. At that point, you perceive the feeling of pain. Menthol acts as a counter irritant to activate an inhibitory neuron that prevents pain signals from reaching your brain.


This method of action is what grants you temporary relief. You may not perceive the pain, but your body is still sending pain signals. Menthol can do nothing to address the source of your pain. Menthol only overrides the perception of pain.


In some instances, this loss of pain perception can lead to worsened injuries and deepened pain. Slapping on a menthol patch and going back to training means you may overtrain an already damaged muscle. Strolling around on a rolled ankle because you can’t perceive the pain could lengthen the time it takes to recover...Wouldn’t you rest easier knowing you can’t perceive the pain because your body isn’t experiencing pain?

Heliopatch is already relieving pain from California to New York. Instead of masking pain, Heliopatch targets destructive free radicals at the source of your pain. We understand that each and every person experiences pain differently. Download our whitepaper or check out our reviews to learn if Heliopatch can help with your unique pain.

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