Topical pain relief comes in four basic types –counter irritants, non-steroidal anti- inflammatories, analgesics and capsaicin (chili-pepper extract). Available in gels and creams, lotions, sprays and rubs, each type works in a different way to ease pain. There are many over counter topical applications while NSAID creams are prescription only.
Counter-Irritant Pain Relief
Counter irritants cause a hot or cold sensation on the skin providing temporary soothing for pain. Often containing menthol, camphor or eucalyptus oil, by producing these heating or cooling sensations they override the ability to feel pain. Products such as Biofreeze use menthol and the herb ilex paraguariensis, a member of the holly family, which possesses anti-inflammatory properties.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory creams and gels contain the same ingredients found in some oral NSAIDs. They work more quickly than oral versions by quickly entering the bloodstream through the skin to reach targeted areas.
Diclofenac is present in Voltaren gel and the liquid Pennsaid. Diclofenac can cause gastrointestinal problems when taken orally, so the topical version is hugely beneficial to those who suffer from these side effects. Ibuprofen gel, such as IbucreamÔ is another NSAID skin gel.
Analgesic Gels and Creams
Analgesic preparations are aspirin-like products, containing salicylate. Absorbed by the skin they work quickly to reduce pain. Products such as Aspercreme contain salicylate, while Ben–Gay containing the counter-irritant methyl salicylate found in wintergreen oil, metabolizes into salicylic acid after penetrating the skin.
Capsaicin, the extract from hot chili peppers, causes a tingling heating sensation when applied to the skin and works by depleting nerve cells of a chemical that sends pain messages. Regular use of these creams will reduce pain. Products such as Axsain and Dolorac contain capsaicin extract and it is found in many creams designed to relieve pain from sporting injuries.
Herbs and Essential Oils
Natural substances found in herbs, homeopathic remedies and essential oils may also be used in topical pain relieving products.
Arnica Montana, primarily used for muscle problems, can also relieve pain caused by arthritis and reduce swelling and tenderness.
Topricin is another arnica -based product that also contains the healing properties of the homeopathic and herbal remedies Rhus Toxicodendron, Graphites and Heloderma amongst others.
Menthol, derived from mint, is already contained in many counter–irritant creams.
Oils derived from ginger, cinnamon, black pepper can relieve the pain caused by arthritis by creating a heating effect through the skin, whilst lavender oil and sweet marjoram affect the nervous system by producing a sedative effect.
Sandalwood oil is known to relieve the pain caused by sciatica whilst chamomile oil is a natural anti-inflammatory. While essential oils are natural products, it is wise to consult a qualified practitioner who will give advice regarding safe quantities to use and will be able to make useful combinations of oils to treat specific problems and relieve chronic pain.