Chill Out: How Biofreeze Works

After a long and hard practice, many athletes not only feel tired and dehydrated, but also feel pain in some parts of their body. In order to combat this pain, pharmaceutical companies are beginning to create products for this sole purpose. One popular product in the sports pain-relieving category is Biofreeze. This is a lotion or cream that is a product of Hygienic Corporation. In order to use this product, all you have to do is apply this cream onto the area that is in pain.

The main ingredients in Biofreeze are natural menthol, ILEX, and camphor. ILEX, also known as Ilex paraguariensis, comes from a type of holly bush that can be found in South America. This has been used by some Native Americans as an amplifier. Thus, it would be used with another medicinal herb to make its effects stronger.

Ilex paraguariensis

Camphor comes from the Cinnamonum camphora tree, which can be found in countries like China, India, and Africa. It has cold properties and has been used by some cultures as a numbing agent for the sensory nerves.


Menthol (C_10 H_20 O), probably most important ingredient in Biofreeze, is an organic compound that naturally occurs in the essential oils of mint plants, such as peppermint and spearmint. This chemical has the property that causes it to produce a cooling effect when it is exposed to one’s skin or when it is inhaled. This cooling effect is only a SENSATION, not an actual drop in temperature.

Structural Diagram of Menthol

Structural Diagram of Menthol

Biofreeze’s pain relieving mechanism has not yet been fully understood. However, scientists have come up with two ideas or this. One is based off of Gate Control Theory. This theory is founded on the idea that pain is transmitted to the brain along 2 different fibers of nerves. The first of these fibers is the A-delta fiber, which is large and carries pain messages that are usually quick and intense. The second is the “C” fiber, which is small and usually carries chronic pain messages. When someone is in pain, the “C” fiber sends a signal to the spinal cord, which sends neuron to the brain, which “produces” the sensation of pain. Basically, Gate Control Theory states that one can block the signals of the “C” fiber by activating the A-delta fiber to inhibit the perception of pain. As Biofreeze is applied, a sensation is sent through the A-delta fiber, which activates an inhibitory nerve. This inhibitory nerve blocks the pain message from the “C” fiber. Thus, the pain is blocked.

Diagram of what is happening

Diagram of what is happening

The second idea is based more off of the menthol in Biofreeze. This theory states that the menthol in the Biofreeze binds with temperature sensitive receptors on the A-delta fiber known as TRPM8 receptors. When the menthol binds, calcium ions are released. It is believed that these ions are what help modulate pain signals through the opiod system of the body. The binding also causes the brain to perceive cold sensations also.


One thought on “Chill Out: How Biofreeze Works

  1. Pingback: Your Questions About Arthritis Pain In Feet | neck pain

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