General HealthHealth & Beauty

Do Topical Pain Relief Creams & Gels Really Work?

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By Regina

Most of us have pulled a muscle before and used topical pain relief to ease the pain.Topical pain relief comes in a variety of brands. Here are some facts about pain relief cream. Photo by Pixabay.

Or maybe your joints ache when it gets cold and a pain relief gel does the trick.

If you’re developing arthritis, chances are you’ve reached for a topical pain relief method at some point.

Whatever the case may be, topical pain relief creams and gels can alleviate some of your pain — when applied directly to the skin right over the pulled muscle or sore joint.

Here’s what you need to know about the 3 types of topical pain relief products…


#1 – Analgesics Or Aspirin-Like Rubs

These are products that contain salicylates —  which are the same pain relieving ingredient that you would find in aspirin. They work by blocking the transmission of nerve impulses.

Pro: If you have arthritis, analgesics actually reduce joint inflammation in addition to relieving the pain as they are absorbed into the skin.

Con: If you are allergic to aspirin, you should not use products containing salicylates without consulting your doctor first. Nor should you use them if you are already taking blood thinners.

Examples: BenGay, Aspercreme, and Sportscreme


#2 – Products That Make Your Skin Feel Hot Or Cold

These types of products are called counter-irritants because their job is to irritate your skin and thus take your mind off the pain. In doing so, you get almost immediate pain relief.

These products often contain ingredients such as menthol, eucalyptus oil, or oil of wintergreen in order to produce that irritating sensation that then feels soothing.

Pro: The immediate soothing sensation that you feel.

Con: The soothing effects don’t last very long.

Examples: Icy Hot, Flexall, and Biofreeze


#3 – Creams Created From Chili Pepper Seeds

Chili pepper seeds have an ingredient called capsaicin — which is the same ingredient that causes that burning sensation in your mouth when you eat chili peppers. These creams seem to be best for those with arthritis in joints that are close to the skin, such as your knees, fingers, and elbows.

Pro: You can “feel the burn” immediately after applying, so it definitely “feels” like it’s working.

Con: You have to apply them for a few weeks straight before you really begin to feel consistent pain relief. Also, the burning sensation can be irritating enough that people stop using them.

Examples: Capzasin and Zostrix


Do Topical Pain Relief Products Really Work?

So, are these topical pain relief creams and gels actually effective in terms of relieving pain?

As it turns out topical pain relief creams:

  • Are perceived to be the best when it comes to relieving pain on a consistent basis.
  • That contain counter-irritants really don’t do anything except take your mind off the pain temporarily.
  • Created from chili peppers are good at relieving pain after you’ve used them for a couple of weeks straight.

While it appears that these topical pain relief gels and creams do offer short-term relief, unfortunately, there is not enough evidence to suggest that they can be helpful when used long term.

if you find that you are using them more and more often for arthritis or some other pain, the truth is your condition may be worsening and you should have it checked out by your doctor.

 Topical pain relief products are not intended to take the place of your prescription arthritis medication.


A Bit More About Pain Relief Creams Worth Mentioning…

The effectiveness of topical pain relief products can be influenced by other medical conditions including:

  • Broken or inflamed skin, burns, open wounds
  • Atopic dermatitis or eczema (skin disorders)
  • Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency (a type of anemia).
  • Severe liver or kidney disease
  • Methemoglobinemia (defective iron in the red blood cells; inhibits oxygen delivery to tissues)
  • Intolerance to certain oral medications
  • Asthma


Natural Topical Pain Relief Options

Some common pain relievers can be used topically (like ibuprofen and arnica). That way, the meds go straight into your bloodstream.

We've found some great topical pain relief cream. Here are our top picks. Photo by shawncampbell on Flickr.

There are also some helpful home remedies for pain relief that may come in handy: