When someone is in pain, especially chronic or severe pain, they will do just about anything to get out of that pain. One common method used is topical analgesics, mostly creams or gels. But do they work and if so, how are they working?
Counterirritants: These types of products do not heal joint or muscle pain but change the way the body perceives sensations. Some common ingredients in over the counter products in this category include menthol, camphor, and eucalyptus. The irritation, heat, or coolness of these products can interrupt pain signals to the brain, essentially tricking the brain.
Examples include: Biofreeze, Tiger Balm, Icy Hot
Salicylates: Products with this ingredient contain a structure similar to aspirin. This has a mild anti-inflammatory effect which also helps with pain relief.
Examples: Aspercreme, Bengay
Capsaicin: This is the substance found in chili peppers that cause the hot/spicy sensation. The idea behind using capsaicin is to stimulate, then decrease the intensity of pain signals. In effect, it stimulates the release of a substance believed to be involved with the communication of pain in the body.
Examples: Capsagesic-HP, Zostrix, CryoDerm Heat
*Many of these products contain multiple ingredients to combine the different types of effects for pain relief. Always use these products as directed. There are times when these should not be used so read the directions before application.