Let's go to the research!
Major journal articles in the past decade indicate that
- menthol does not appear to cause adverse skin reactions
- menthol appears to target a special, and hitherto-unknown nerve receptor called TRPM8
- menthol appears to actively reduce local blood flow (a very important finding when controlling inflammation is a key target of treatment), similar to the application of ice
- although menthol is slightly less effective than ice in reducing arterial blood flow, patients report less discomfort with menthol than with ice applications
- this study appears to prove that topical menthol causes less discomfort than ice
- menthol appears to cause temporary pain relief even in acute injuries such as muscle strain, although long-term effects were not examined in this study
Topical analgesics such as Biofreeze or Sombra provide limited pain relief and are not designed to fix the root cause of your pain (that's what chiropractic is for!). And I have always preferred ice and heat for topical applications because they are free and easily applied at home. But, that being said... recent research indicates strong support for topical lotions and creams for a variety of acute and chronic pains.