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What is Liniment?

Sara Schmidt
By
Updated: May 17, 2024

Sore muscles and arthritis can leave people with severe pain. Many lotions, creams, and other products have been created to help soothe this pain. Liniment, a medicinal liquid, is one type of balm manufactured to help ease joint and muscle pain.

Liniments are similar in texture to lotion. They are usually made up of alcohol or acetone, various oils, and camphor. Oils can include wintergreen, turpentine, and other varieties. In addition to relieving pain, liniments can also be helpful in relaxing stiff muscles and treating tendinitis. Some people keep liniments in their first aid kits.

The ingredients found in liniment can cause mild irritation when applied to the skin. A small patch of skin should be tested prior to fully applying the medication. Use of the embrocation can also cause the blood to flow to the part of the body experiencing pain. For this reason, liniments are also known as warming agents. Some people cite that the warming effect helps to relieve their pain psychologically.

Latin for "anoint" or "smear," liniment balm must be applied with friction through a rubbing motion in order to provide relief. In China, traditional medicine has called for many different types of liniments for thousands of years. These may not only relieve pain and soreness, but also be used in bone setting and treating bruises.

Strong forms of liniment have also been developed to treat horses. When used as such, they may be diluted first or applied at full concentration, depending on the animal's size and condition. Oftentimes horse caregivers treat their animals with a bath featuring the added element of liniment. Horse groomers may also simply coat their hands with liniment before massaging a horse with the medicine. In addition to alleviating pain in the horses, liniment also serves to help horses cool off in hot, dry weather.

Most liniments come in glass jars or bottles with sealed screw caps. They can last up to a decade if properly stored and cared for. People can use a mister to spray the topical analgesic on their bodies. Glass droppers can also be used for smaller areas.

This remedy is not meant for ingestion. Liniments should only be applied externally and used as directed by the product instructions. If advised, it should also be diluted prior to use. Applying liniment that may be too strong can cause damage, such as blistering of the skin. Sensitive areas, such as the head, groin, and genitals, should be avoided when applying the product.

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Sara Schmidt
By Sara Schmidt
With a Master's Degree in English from Southeast Missouri State University, Sara Schmidt puts her expertise to use by writing for WiseGeek, plus various magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She published her own novella and has other literary projects in the works. Sara's diverse background includes teaching children in Spain, tutoring college students, running CPR and first aid classes, and organizing student retreats, reflecting her passion for education and community engagement.
Discussion Comments
By ElizaBennett — On Sep 15, 2011

You don't hear the term "liniment" much anymore, but it seems like basically the same stuff as Ben-Gay, Icy Hot, etc.

Sometimes you come across it reading classic books. Does anyone else remember the scene in "Anne of Green Gables" where she puts liniment in a cake?

Her foster mother had put liniment (homemade, I assume) into an empty bottle labeled "Vanilla Extract." Anne used it in the cake. The poor lady she served it to was too polite to admit there was anything wrong with it, and Anne was too nervous about having company to taste the cake herself!

I'm imagining a cake made with something like Ben-Gay. Yikes! I'm assuming Anne's form was more liquid than what you see today. It would be hard to mistake Icy-Hot for vanilla. But if it was alcohol-based (like vanilla extract) and thin, I can kind of see doing it.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt
With a Master's Degree in English from Southeast Missouri State University, Sara Schmidt puts her expertise to use by writing for WiseGeek, plus various magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She published her own novella and has other literary projects in the works. Sara's diverse background includes teaching children in Spain, tutoring college students, running CPR and first aid classes, and organizing student retreats, reflecting her passion for education and community engagement.
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