Some people are unable to take oral pain medications for a variety of reasons. Oral NSAIDs can irritate some people’s stomachs and narcotic pain medications can interfere with a person’s ability to concentrate at work. People with chronic pain problems may need to take pain medication for long periods of time so finding methods that offer pain relief with the least amount of side effects is a worthy quest. There are a number of topical pain medications available--but do they work?
How they are thought to work?
Topical pain medications come in various forms of sprays, ointments and creams. Our skin absorbs the medication and capillaries carry it towards the site of pain but it is unclear how much medication actually reaches the area. There is no consensus as to whether or not topical pain medication will work for a particular pain problem and like oral medications, some work better for different people.
Pain relief may depend on whether the location is muscle or is joint related. According to mayoclinic.com, topical medication used for osteoarthritis tends to work better on joints that are close to the skin surface such as the hands or knees. In addition, it is felt that topical medications may also partially work by a placebo effect derived from the action of rubbing it in.
Types of non-prescription topical pain medication:
• Salicylates such as Aspercreme or Bengay:
These creams use the same pain-relieving substance found in aspirin. According to drugs.com, there is little likelihood that one will absorb enough salicylate to cause a combined interaction with oral aspirin products. Still, make sure you check with your doctor before starting, especially if you are on blood thinners, and do not use them if pregnant or breastfeeding or have an allergy to salicyates. Salicylates are used for both muscle and joint pain.
• Capsaicin is made from chili peppers and acts to reduce the amount of substance P, a messenger of pain impulses to the brain.