The world of wellness products is vast and confusing. In our new series, Well Spent, Outside staffers recommend the hidden gems that they’re unabashedly obsessed with.
As a desk jockey with big–mountain dreams, I’m overly familiar with aches and pains. I slouch at a computer all week and then spend my weekends slogging up skin tracks, going over the bars of my mountain bike, or climbing with stronger-than-me friends. I’ve had overuse injuries in just about every joint, and I currently have a bruise on my left butt cheek that’s been there since October.
But please don’t tell me I need to stretch. Or try dry needling or herbal medicine. I’ve experimented with it all. The few remedies that I repeatedly turn to are basic, tried-and-true approaches. I ice, take hot baths, foam-roll, and sleep a lot. I drink plenty of water, eat well and often, and do a lot of yoga. I’m also completely obsessed with CBD balm.
I first discovered the stuff this winter when, for the third year in a row, an excruciating and as yet undiagnosed pain came back above my ankles. After downing a troubling amount of ibuprofen, trying five different pairs of ski boots, and consulting with over a dozen boot fitters and several orthopedic surgeons, I started rubbing my ankles down with Lazarus Naturals CBD balm. It’s potent—half a teaspoon has 50 milligrams of CBD, and I regularly use more than that—but for the first time since 2017, I didn’t have to pause my ski season to let the inflammation in my ankles subside. I’m convinced the balm had something to do with it, along with dedicated icing, stretching, mobility work, and ski boots modified to fit my weird feet. I applied it every night before bed and also kept a tub in my car to rub on after a long day on the mountain. When an ongoing hip problem flared up, or my instep was bruised from seven straight days in touring boots, I smeared it in those areas, too. (Another bonus: It smells fantastic. The Portland Rose balm is sweet and potent without being overbearing and was a welcome change during a January hut trip with 14 people in close quarters. And one time, some guy in the Taos Ski Valley parking lot complimented the scent from 15 feet away, which was the first time anyone has ever noticed a pleasant smell coming from the trunk of my car midwinter.)
Now, as I enjoy warm, dry-weather sports, I’m rubbing the balm on fresh bruises, achy joints, and knots in my shoulders. I even put it on sunburns. If I’m dealing with a chronic condition, I apply the balm daily and increase my usage whenever things start to get sore.
Still, I don’t know how or why it works. While there are countless anecdotes like mine, the research on topical CBD’s efficacy is inconclusive. There are some promising studies that indicate it may have real pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory benefits, though there are plenty of experts who would chalk it all up to a placebo effect. But honestly, given my own experience with it, placebo’s good enough for me.
I do have one theory as to why CBD works so well for me, though. A tai chi instructor once told me that she had students experiencing joint pain practice “knee love” throughout her class. They would take a few seconds to simply rub their knees vigorously with their hands, one after the other. Maybe it got the blood flowing or reminded their brain to fire up nerve endings. Maybe it was just a nice gesture that put their mind in the right place. At the risk of sounding a little woo-woo, I think of applying CBD balm in a similar way: it’s a sweet little ritual, where I can take a moment to acknowledge and pay attention to the parts of my body suffering for the cause. The cause, of course, being long days at the crag with friends, fast singletrack descents, and the weightless feeling of a powder turn.