by Charles Poliquin
Topical creams have always been an integral part of the training of athletes and the general population. Beyond massage oils that serve primarily to enable a practitioner to administer massage without pulling the skin, sport creams have many properties to help relieve pain and sore muscles. Their popularity is such that in 2008 Americans spent an estimated $275 million on products such as Bengay, Icy Hot, and Aspercreme. This begs the questions “Do they work?” and if not, “Is there anything better?”
Although these topical creams can provide a sensation of heat, the effect is similar to that of eating a jalapeño pepper – the spicy fruit only seems as though it’s burning a hole through your flesh. Specifically, the hot feeling is caused by chemicals, such as capsaicin, that irritate the nerves of the skin. After taking all this into account, consider that just as someone can get used to eating spicy foods, the nerves of the skin can become accustomed to chemicals such as capsaicin so that the product no longer provides the same sensation. As such, those who use these products often find they do better by switching brands after several weeks of use.
There are also creams that provide a feeling of cold; the cold feeling offered by some of these creams is also from a chemical, commonly menthol. In fact, menthol is one of the ingredients in mint oil, which has long been used in Chinese salves for its cooling effects. Here are some of the sport creams on the market and their percentage of menthol:
Flexall Ultra Plus (16%)
Bengay Greaseless (10%)
Bengay Ultra Strength (10%)
Icy Hot Cream (10%)
Icy Hot Stick (10%)
Icy Hot Balm (7.6%)
Thera-Gesic Maximum Strength (1%)
Combining these two types of chemicals (e.g., capsaicin and menthol) in one cream creates an initial feeling of heat when it is applied to the skin, followed by a feeling of cold as the heating chemical wears off. This is the effect found when using a product such as Icy Hot. Although the general opinion of many health care organizations is that these products have little value and as such will not endorse them, they do have an effect on the sensory neurons under the skin and as such may provide temporary pain relief.
On a sadder note, there is one death attributed to one type of muscle cream by a medical examiner, where the petite teenager track star who overused it, built up toxic levels of methyl salicylate, the active ingredient in her body.
That’s the current state of sports creams, but new research has led to the development of new creams that help improve muscle function and promote healing.
The Next Step in Sport Creams
The new creams were developed by Dr. Mark Lindsay and Chad Robertson, BSc, BPharm. Lindsay has treated Alex Rodriguez, Eli Manning, Mariano Rivera, Maria Sharapova and Robinson Canó. I got hired to be the first chiropractor to go to the Winter Olympics for our bobsleigh team. He helped many Winter Oympics medalists before their best. He first came to the limelight for being the “muscle mechanic “ of Donovan Bailey, Olympic Gold medalist in 100 meters.Lindsay and Robertson are authors of the book Fascia: Clinical Applications for Health and Human Performance (Delmar Cengage Learning, 2008). Lindsay set out to develop a transdermal-based product that would be able to target dysfunction of connective tissue and accomplish the following goals:
• Improve connective tissue performance
• Reduce oxidative stress
• Control inflammation
• Modulate pain
• Optimize regeneration
• Minimize fibrosis
Of course, all of these goals needed to be achieved within WADA and USADA protocols to ensure the health and safety of those using the new products. Robertson says that the transdermal delivery provides the following advantages over oral, intravenous and other routes: minimal side effects; improved compliance; lower dose used versus oral dosage counterpart; bypassing the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which reduces GI irritation that frequently occurs with oral dosages; steady absorption over hours; and localized application to a specific area.
Robertson says the most challenging problem in developing these products was ensuring that their active ingredients can pass through the skin. In developing a successful topical formulation, Robertson noted the following requirements:
• The molecule must be small enough to pass through the skin
• The molecule should be fat-soluble
• The molecule does not have a charge
• Permeation enhancers should be used to improve the delivery of the molecule through the skin into the bloodstream
The result was the creation of two sport cream products with specific properties, one to use before training and one to use after. They are called IGNITE and XCCELERATE.
IGNITE is designed to be used 30 minutes prior to exercise. The product contains arginine hydrochloride, pomegranate and emu oil, which play critical roles in protecting the body from oxidative and inflammatory stress while priming the musculoskeletal system for optimal physical performance.
IGNITE’s ingredients provide precursors for three pathways critical for muscle growth, as they are heavily involved in the tissue injury and repair processes: (1) nitric oxide; (2) polyamines, which are required for DNA synthesis and cell growth; and (3) proline, which serves as a substrate for collagen synthesis.
Ingredients in IGNITE:
• Arginine Hydrochloride. Arginine hydrochloride is a precursor to nitric oxide radicals, which are activators of satellite cells; satellite cell activation and HGF release is critical to myofiber repair and muscular hypertrophy. Precursor to nitric oxide, NO, which reduces damage by inflammatory cells by increasing their apoptosis and inhibiting the expression of adhesion molecules, such as intracellular adhesion molecules (ICAM), E-selectin and P-selectin; increasing muscle-derived levels of NO can reduce neutrophil-mediated lysis of muscle cells. Increases local levels of NO, which acts as a vasodilator; this leads to the restoration of blood flow and oxygen supply to the tissue. Additionally, NO promotes the activation of several growth factors involved in cellular repair.
• Pomegranate. Pomegranate acts as an antioxidant by scavenging free radicals and decreasing macrophage oxidative stress and lipid peroxidation. Acts as an anti-inflammatory by inhibiting not just the cyclooxygenase and lipooxygenase enzymes associated with inflammation but also other cytokines such as IL-1B.
• Emu Oil. Emu oil has anti-inflammatory properties that reduce soreness and promote faster recovery.
XCCELERATE is designed to be used post-workout to help heal soft-tissue injuries. It contains menthol, superoxide dismutase, radix angelicae and Celadrin. These products increase the regenerative capacity of connective tissue while minimizing the buildup of scar tissue. XCCELERATE also helps in modulating inflammation and pain, allowing for faster overall recovery.
Ingredients in XCCELERATE:
• Menthol. Causes a feeling of coolness. Exhibits analgesic properties.
• Superoxide Dismutase. Provides antioxidant properties to protect connective tissue from the destructive effects of oxygen free radicals. Accelerates the repair of muscle by restoring desmin around the muscle membrane. Reverses fibrosis scar tissue.
• Radix Angelicae. Works as a central analgesic by increasing beta endorphin levels. Acts as an anti-inflammatory by inhibiting IL-1B induced COX-2 expression, a key enzyme in the inflammatory cascade.
• Celadrin. Cetylated fatty acids reduce inflammation mainly by inhibition of 5-lipooxygenase enzyme, a potent mediator of inflammation; and by inhibition of pro-inflammatory cytokine release. In one study published in 2005 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research and headed by respected sport scientist Dr. William J. Kraemer, the use of a topical cream containing cetylated fatty acid was used in subjects with knee osteoarthritis (OA). The authors made the following observations: “…30 days of treatment with a topical cream consisting of cetylated fatty acids improves static postural stability in patients with knee OA presumably due to pain relief during quiet standing. Such over-the-counter treatment may help improve the exercise trainability of people with OA.”
Topical creams have been used for thousands of years. Do they work? The answer is yes. The rub is that they are limited to relieving minor pain and soothing sore muscles. Are there better alternatives? The answer is also yes. With the development of IGNITE and XCCELERATE, topical creams have evolved into effective sport creams that can improve performance and increase recovery.
I find that using IGNITE 45 minutes before training does increase strength significantly. Derek Woodske had the bright idea of actually spreads it on using the FAT tool, and that works even better!. I use the XCCELERATE right after training to speed up recovery. These two creams accelerate progress so much, that they are like the BCAAs, when you don’t use them, you can really tell the difference. Of course, I only apply it on the body parts to be worked. I had Pat Mendes try them out in last visit. John Broz told me they are the cat’s ass once he tried them.
You can obtain those valuable recovery agents from BioSignature practitioners.