• Julie Williams


September 30, 2021

Lets talk about pain, most of us will suffer from pain at one time or another and a large proportion of the population suffer from daily chronic pain. If you suffer from pain when doing the things that are required for living your everyday life, you're not the only one. It's a fact that the CDC states that as much up to 40% individuals living in the United States may experience chronic pain, which makes it one of the primary reasons that adults seek medical attention.

In most cases, however, people do not seek treatments for their pain but instead they've tried alternative treatments like applying ice to the area, or with a heating pad or tried a variety of over-the-counter oral remedies first prior to seeking medical care.

Improvements in transdermal absorption, otc topical pain relievers are offering superior pain relief for a variety of medical conditions and are fast becoming the go to for pain relief among those living with pain.

More and more medical professionals and pharmacists are encouraging otc topical pain relief creams and gels as an alternative to traditional oral pain medication due to the risk of side effects, addiction and cost of oral medications compared to topical medications.

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What Is a Topical Pain Medication?

Topical Pain Medication is a class of medicines some over the counter and some by prescription only. This class of drugs utilizes the bodies largest organ, the skin as a means of application for the relief of pain. Not all topical pain relievers are absorbed through to the underlying tissues offering a systemic benefit. Some only offer very limited pain relief limited to the top layer of the skin such as for sunburns, bug bites etc. Some offer systemic benefits as the ingredients are absorbed through the skin offering a much longer duration of pain relief. The majority of pain relief medications (or analgesics) help to block the body's chemical systems from sending messages of pain to the brain. These chemicals, referred to as prostaglandins are hormones that can trigger inflammation and cause the nerves surrounding the region to send messages of pain to the brain. Both topical and oral medicines reduce prostaglandin's effects, they differ in their approach.

There are many forms of topical pain medicines that are currently in use, the majority offered as a cream that is compounded, gel, or as a patch for pain relief, according to the formula. While the primary method of pain relief is blocking prostaglandins, there are other techniques can be employed as an alternative to or in conjunction with prostaglandin blocking. Topical pain relief medications include:


Topical Salicylates

These topically applied NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications) make use of the same substances found in aspirin to reduce the pain and inflammation of patients. There are over-the-counter versions available, like Aspercreme as well as Ben Gay, have been offering relief to patients for many years.

Topical NSAIDs Other topical products use the same pain-relieving drugs as the most common over-the counter oral remedies like naproxen and ibuprofen. These medications are designed to be applied to the skin with patches or gels. The most commonly used application of topical NSAIDs comprise ketoprofen and ibuprofen (Nurofen). Like all NSAIDs, these should be used under the supervision of medical provider as tissue thinning is a side effect of this class of topicals.

Topical Counterirritants Topical pain medication typically contain a substance that is intended to induce a sensation on the skin's surface that is intended to divert the patient from the root of pain. Chemicals like menthol camphor and methyl salicylate found in products such as Icy Hot and Biofreeze produce the sensation of cooling and warming which is thought to increase circulation and reduce discomfort. These often have a very strong menthol odor and can cause burning or cold sensations that may exasperate the underlying painful condition.

Topical Anesthetics The topical anesthetics produce an numbing feeling in the area of application , which relieves discomfort. If they are present in a cream or gel they affect nerves that are located in the skin, temporarily stopping the transmission of signals of pain into the brain. The most commonly used topical anesthetics usually contain lidocaine as a principal anesthetic. It is produced in a gel, spray or patch form and offers adequate pain relief but when combined with other pain relieving ingredients, it has been found to be more effective.

Topical Capsaicin They work by reducing peripheral nerve cells in the pain receptors needed to transmit pain sensations through using capsaicin the chemical that causes the burning sensation that you feel after eating the chili pepper. Capsaicin creams for topical use like Zostrix as well as Capzasin, have been proven to alleviate pain for approximately 56% individuals when used at most four times a day. But, these creams can require up to two weeks to provide relief and they do cause a burning feeling to site applied and this may be more painful than the underlying ailment used to treat. .

Topical Steroids. Certain substances (not to be mistaken for anabolic steroids) can be utilized in topical pain medication. Most commonly, these formulations contain corticosteroids such as betamethasone valerate (BMV) and Voltaren Gel but this class also has side effects and interactions that must be reviewed prior to use.

Topical Prescription Opioids

The pain-relieving properties of opioids are widely known but fewer people use topical opioids than the other pain relievers listed on this list. This is due to the inherent risk involved in opioid addiction and overdose. Physicians' are less apt to prescribe these types of topical pain relievers due to risk.

OTC Topical Pain Relievers Lotions, creams, gels and patches are made up of numerous compounded ingredients including Lidocaine, MSM, Magnesium, salicylate or another NSAID, menthol, camphor and any other number of ingredients in an effort to target and relieve pain. Topical pain relievers have many advantages over standard over-the counter and prescription oral medication. We've compiled a list of benefits of topical pain relievers.