Andrew Moore, a biochemist at the University of Oxford who led a systematic review of studies about whether these so-called salicylate creams work, was asked if he would recommend using them.
Calling them an unproven waste of money, Moore said: "You might as well rub your skin with a bit of spit."
Now that we've gotten that highlight out of the way, just a bit about the study, which was done by the Cochrane Collaboration, a highly regarded international organization that evaluates research. The review found that these popular over-the-counter creams, heat gels and other remedies for sports injuries and arthritis aches don't work, despite the many millions of dollars spent on them each year.
Familiar brands containing salicylate creams include Ben Gay, Icy Hot and Aspercreme balms. They are thought to work by distracting users from the pain with their warmth and redness. While some older smaller studies showed a measure of improvement after using the treatments, the newer, large, more rigorous trials showed no effect, Moore said.
Some creams, not covered by the review, do appear to work, Moore said, including topical capsaicin (derived from hot peppers) and some topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Some people, though, will swear by their Ben Gay or Icy Hot no matter what a study says. And, naturally, companies have defended their products.
In these economic times, though, you can always just try some spit first.