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How Topical Pain Relievers Work

  • Topical are gels, creams and lotions that are used for relieving pain, primarily in muscles or joints which are close to the surface of the skin.
  • There are three different kinds of topical pain relievers; counter-irritants, salicylates and capsaicin.

Topical pain relievers are gels, creams and lotions that are used for relieving pain, primarily in muscles or joints which are close to the surface of the skin. There is a considerable range of different products and it is best to consult a doctor before using them if you have any particular allergies or are already taking medication. Generally these products are available over the counter without prescription.

This article will seek to explain the range of options available as well as the benefits suggested by the different products.

What do I need to know about topical pain relievers?

Firstly it should be noted that there are three different kinds of topical pain relievers; counter-irritants, salicylates and capsaicin. Your choice of which product to use will depend on your needs as well as your doctors advice. Some products are a mixture of more than one of these.

1. Counter-Irritants

These offer temporary pain relief by mildly irritating the skin to produce a tingly sensation. By doing so they relieve the feeling of pain from your nearby joint or muscle pain. They are good for those people who are worried about side-effects of other medicines. Sometimes people are put off by the strong odor of such products. However if you like the smell of menthol and eucalyptus oil then you are in luck! Examples of such products are Eucalyptamint, Icy Hot, and ArthriCare.

2. Salicylates

These are used for reducing pain as well as inflammation. Salicylates are also a primary ingredient in oral medications such as aspirin. For this reason before using this type of product you should consult your doctor. Examples are Mobisyl, Flexall and Sportscreme.

3. Capsaicin

Capsaicin is an ingredient from cayenne peppers, which with repeated application can reduce the amount of substance P (a neurotransmitter) in your nerve cells. This is turn will reduce your sensation of pain. On use such products will be experienced as a burning sensation on your skin. However, the actual pain relieving effects may take several weeks to become apparent. Importantly this type of medication will only affect the nerve cells responsible for transmitting pain signals, so the sensitivity of your skin to touch will not be affected. Zostrix, Zostrix HP, and Capzasin-P are all example of such products, although Menthacin also includes counter-irritant ingredients.

Conclusions

Many people use such creams from time to time as joint or muscle pains arise. Others see them as an additional weapon in their armoury against the long-term pain experienced from joint problems such as arthritis. For those who suffer from arthritis these products should not be seen as a long term solution and are not intended as a replacement to prescribed pain relief. However, they may be useful for those times when pain seems to flare up. It should also be noted that topical pain relievers are by definition those applied directly to the skin and therefore will not be as effective as reaching hard to reach places, for example joints that are not close to the surface of the skin.

The information supplied in this article is not to be considered as medical advice and is for educational purposes only.