DrRic Tutorial -Topical Pain Relief
A Guide to Topical Pain Medications
Pain relievers come in all forms, including medication applied to the skin. Get on-the-spot topical therapy for pain relief from creams, patches, and sprays.
By Jennifer Acosta Scott
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
Don't Miss This
Sign Up for OurHealthy LivingNewsletter
Thanks for signing up!You might also like these other newsletters:
When most people think of pain relief, they picture swallowing a pill. However, there also are many topical pain relievers — pain-relieving medications applied to the skin, including creams and patches.
Topical pain relievers are often used by patients who cannot take oral medications, says Biral Patel, MD, an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist at Scott & White Hospital in Temple, Texas.
"Certain patients have difficulty swallowing pills," Dr. Patel says. "Other patients may have had surgeries that impede their ability to absorb drugs through their GI system. That's when topical medications can be used to control pain."
A pain relief cream or patch can also be used when you have pain in a very specific area. "If you have pain in a joint, you can put the medication on the joint, whereas if you take the drug orally, it goes through your whole body," Patel says.
Related: Know Your Pain Treatment Options
Choices in Topical Therapy for Pain Relief
Consider these three main types of pain medication applied to the skin:
- Local anesthetics.These are medications that numb painful areas for short periods of time. They have a variety of uses. Lidocaine patches, for example, can help to relieve the burning, stabbing, chronic ache that may occur after a shingles infection — a condition called post-herpetic neuralgia. Dentists may also use a topical anesthetic on the gums to help ease the pain of an injection. Some topical local anesthetics are also available over the counter in spray and gel form to treat the sting of a sunburn.
- Pain medications.Medications applied to the skin include drugs such as the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac (Solaraze, Pennsaid), which works by reducing inflammation in a localized area of the body, or aspirin creams, which work by blocking substances in the body that cause pain. Alternatively, these topical medications may contain narcotic pain relievers, such as fentanyl. Though some of these topical pain relievers (Aspercreme, BenGay) are available over the counter, some are dispensed by prescription only.
- Counter-irritants.These are products that contain substances such as menthol, eucalyptus, or oil of wintergreen that irritate nerve endings, producing a "cool" feeling on the skin and distracting the brain from deeper sources of pain. Vicks VapoRub is an example of a counter-irritant.
Related: Therapies for Natural Pain Relief
Topical Therapy for Pain Relief Cautions
Not everyone is a good candidate for topical therapy for pain relief. People who are allergic to the adhesives on patches, for example, should avoid them. Anyone who is sensitive to the active ingredient in an oral pain reliever should not try it in topical form either.
"People who have had kidney problems or kidney failure in the past, for example, shouldn't try an ibuprofen cream," Patel says. Don't use a topical pain reliever on infected skin. "You won't get as effective a result if there's an active infection on the skin," Patel explains. "It causes an imbalance in the [skin] environment, and it could negate the medication."
Patel adds that people who use topical pain relievers shouldn't apply too much. Overdose is possible, just as with oral medications.
Says Patel, "There will be specific directions on the patch or cream — a specific amount of cream you can apply or a certain number of patches you can use." Always follow these directions.
Video: 2014 Guide to Topical Pain Relief
Trump piles on Senate Dems over delusional North Korea summit demands
Middle School Fashion Tips for Your Tween
Frisco Dog Cat Bed Cave, Brown
Proof Sunglasses Eyewear
Clarins Takes a Step Back to Finally MoveForward
Elderly Benefit From Intensive Blood Pressure Treatment
Easy DIY Feathered Nail Art
How to Dominate at Thumb Wars
4 new ideas for becoming more effective at work
How to Ice an Injured Ankle
Five Daily Skin Habits to Start Now
The Newest Acne Remedies
FallWinter 2019 Fashion Trends
7 Sleep Aids Put to the Test