Topical Pain Relief-Hope in a Bottle or Real Help?

Acute pain in a shoulder at the young women.

When your joints are painful or your muscles ache, topical pain killers may offer temporary relief until you can be assessed by your orthopedist. Topical pain killers, or analgesics, are sprayed on or rubbed into the skin over painful muscles or joints. Here are the most common ingredients found in products available without a prescription.

  • Counterirritants. Ingredients such as menthol, methylsalicylate, and camphor are called counterirritants because they create a burning or cooling sensation that distracts your mind from the pain.  
  • Salicylates. These same ingredients that give aspirin its pain-relieving quality are found in some creams. When absorbed into the skin, they may help with pain, particularly in joints close to the skin, such as the fingers, knees, and elbows.
  • Capsaicin. The main ingredient of hot chili peppers, capsaicin is also one of the most effective ingredients for topical pain relief. When first applied, capsaicin creams cause a warm tingling or burning sensation. This gets better over time. You may need to apply these creams for a few days up to a couple of weeks before you notice relief from pain.      

Here’s what you need to know to get the greatest effect and minimize the risks of these products:

  • Read the package insert and follow directions carefully.
  • Never apply them to wounds or damaged skin.
  • Do not use them along with a heating pad, because it could cause burns.
  • Do not use under a tight bandage.
  • Wash your hands well after using them. Avoid touching your eyes with the product on your hands.

If you are allergic to aspirin or are taking blood thinners, check with your doctor before using topical medications that contain salicylates. Pain that is unresolved within a week or, that prevents you from going about your daily routine needs the attention of a orthopedic physician.

Get out of pain and active again with MK Orthopaedics.  Our experts treat all types of orthopaedic injuries and conditions. For more information go to www.mkortho.org or Call 815 207 8280 to schedule an appointment. 

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