Does Topical Pain Management Work?
Anyone who has arthritis knows that keeping pain at bay can be challenging. Sometimes, medications, steroid injections, and other pain management strategies don’t keep the pain away. Can a lotion or cream help? Here’s what to know about topical pain relief options.
How do topical medications work?
When a person takes an oral medication, the medicine gets absorbed into the bloodstream. With topical medication, the medicine is absorbed through a person’s skin. Because of this, topical pain medications usually work best on joints that are close to the surface of the skin, such as the wrist or the knees. A variety of gels, creams, lotions, and even sprays may help bring some much-needed arthritis pain relief.
Ingredients to look for
Topical pain medications may be available over-the-counter or as a prescription. Some common active ingredients include capsaicin, salicylates, anesthetics, and counter irritants. Capsaicin helps to block pain signals, while counterirritants help distract the body from pain. Anesthetics cause a numbing sensation, and salicylates can reduce inflammation. These ingredients can decrease pain for a few hours, though all will need to be reapplied periodically for full effectiveness.
Are lotions effective?
Some people say lotions and creams effectively reduce pain, although scientific studies haven’t found any definitive evidence for effectiveness. Regardless, if a person experience results from topical medication, there is little reason not to take the medicine. Some treatments are also shown to work better when taken with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Are there any risks?
The most significant risk with topical pain relievers is that these medicines may alter the body’s sensitivity to cold or heat. Because of this, patients should avoid using hot and cold therapy at the same time as topical pain medication. The altered sensations can easily lead to accidental burns. Additionally, don’t use topical pain relievers on broken or irritated skin.
In some cases, a pharmacist may use compounding to provide a personalized lotion or cream. The compounding process is especially useful for patients who have sensitivities or allergies to specific ingredients commonly found in over-the-counter products. With this strategy, the pharmacist can provide an effective option that doesn’t contain any of the ingredients that the patient needs to avoid.
What else can I do?
An effective arthritis treatment plan uses a range of strategies to decrease pain. For example, many people benefit from going to physical therapy and exercising regularly, in addition to using topical pain medications. For more information about arthritis pain relief, speak with a healthcare provider.