A Summary Of Arthritis Topical Pain Relievers

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A Word About Arthritis And The Various Types Of Arthritis Topical Pain Relievers

Arthritis is a painful condition that affects the joints of the body. While there are many oral pain relievers that are useful in combatting joint pain, some arthritis suffers prefer to use pain relievers that are applied directly to the skin near the pain source (or sources). These topical products are sold as creams, ointments, gels, in spray form, and in patch form. The three main types of topically applied pain relievers are counterirritants, capsaicin-based products and salicylate-based products.


Counterirritant products are very popular for pain relief and are often the topical treatment that is first chosen. Products of this kind contain active ingredients such as menthol, eucalyptus oil, turpentine oil, and camphor. Exposure of these products to the skin causes the skin to feel warm or cool, which helps to obscure the underlying pain. Although counterirritant products can be applied to the skin multiple times per day, some may not find their therapeutic effects to be strong enough to relieve their pain, especially when pain is moderate or severe. Such individuals may instead elect to use capsaicin- or salicylate-based products for pain relief.

Capsaicin-Based Products

Capsaicin is a compound that produces a burning sensation when it is applied to the skin. Capsaicin-containing pain relievers are generally considered to be a stronger alternative to the counterirritants as they often provide greater pain relief. This is true because capsaicin acts to dull nerves in a manner that retards their ability to transmit pain signals, which is a phenomenon that is not characteristic of the counterirritant class of products. A drawback to capsaicin is that it usually requires 1-2 weeks of routine applications before it begins to alleviate pain, and perhaps another month or so beyond that before it maximally reduces pain. Side effects of capsaicin use include excessive, uncomfortable burning sensation, redness, and stinging.

Salicylate-Based Products

Salicylates are aspirin-containing pain relievers (the chemical name for aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid, which is why these products are referred to generally as salicylates). Although it is widely believed that salicylates in oral form are more effective at relieving pain than are the topically applied forms, the topical forms remain a popular choice and are highly effective in some people. People who do not tolerate aspirin well should avoid using salicylate-based topical products as the aspirin in these products is absorbed through the skin and travels throughout the body to the brain, just like what occurs with the oral form of aspirin. Those who suffer severe side effects, such as ringing in the ears and blurry vision, for example, should immediately stop using salicylate-based topical products and immediately consult a doctor.

Concluding Remarks

Counterirritant, capsaicin-based, and salicylate-based arthritis topical pain relievers are immensely popular among arthritis sufferers. This is true because they are available over-the-counter, effective, easy to apply, do not require drug ingestion into the stomach (which can cause nausea or other stomach ailments), and are generally safe to use. However, as with any medicament, it is recommended that you consult your doctor before using any of these products, and especially if severe side effects are experienced.


Johns Hopkins Health Alerts, Pain Relief For Arthritis With Topical Analgesics: https://www.johnshopkinshealthalerts.com/reports/arthritis/128-1.html

L.F. Callahan et al., Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Among Patients With Arthritis, Preventing Chronic Disease: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2687850/?tool=pubmed

Mayo Clinic, Arthritis Pain: Creams and gels for aching joints: https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pain-medications/PN00041