It’s typical for people to pop an over-the-counter pain medication for aches and pains. For people with fibromyalgia, arthritis or other chronic pain conditions, this approach isn’t a viable option; prolonged use of NSAIDs or aspirin has been linked to kidney, stomach and liver damage. Prescription pain relievers come with a host of risks including organ damage, dependency and abuse. Many are looking for pain relief options outside of medication.
Topical pain relief creams, gels and patches can come in handy for those who need a little extra help getting through the day and wish to avoid the risks associated with medications. While pain management is not to be confused with treatment that addresses the cause of pain, it’s still a highly important component of overall treatment. Maintaining quality of life and limiting the impact pain has on your activities are imperative both to mental and physical health.
Natural Topical Pain Relievers
For hundreds of years, if not longer, the arnica plant has been used for medicinal purposes. It not only relieves pain but reduces inflammation and is generally helpful for sore muscles, aching joints and injuries like broken bones that involve inflammation. Arnica can be purchased in gel form by itself or in combination with other natural medicinal ingredients. Topricin and Penetrex are popular brands of cream featuring arnica among other ingredients.
Menthol is an organic compound found in a number of plants, including mint, that serves as a counterirritant. Counterirritants disrupt the sensation of pain by giving your nerve ending a different sensation to pay attention to, usually either a hot or cold sensation, and sometimes both. They also cause superficial inflammation at the site of application which reduces inflammation in surrounding structures. Menthol-based products are helpful mainly for minor muscle and joint aches. Icy hot is one popular brand that comes in both cream and patch form. Patches may be more expensive but deliver longer lasting relief. (Some Icy Hot products contain methyl salicylate, a natural compound that can be toxic if overused. If looking to avoid medication risks, only use products whose active ingredient is menthol alone.)
Capscaicin is the chemical in chili peppers that makes them hot. It serves as a counterirritant in pain relief creams, gels and patches. Capscaicin has been shown to deplete substance P in the body. Substance P is a neurotransmitter that communicates pain impulses from your nerve endings to the central nervous system. Lower levels of substance P inhibit you from experiencing pain, since that experience only comes about when the CNS processes pain signals. See www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov for more on the link between capscaicin and substance P.
It’s always a good idea to seek out customer reviews of products before deciding what to purchase. Amazon.com is a great resource for customer reviews. You can find out not only general ratings but specific conditions that the product is helpful or not helpful for.
Remember, natural doesn’t always mean safe. As with methyl salycilate, even plant-based ingredients can be toxic if overused. Always read ingredient lists and safety instructions before using a topical pain reliever.
Topical pain relievers likely won’t comprise your entire chronic pain management strategy, but they can help you get through your day. Arnica, menthol and capscaicin are three natural ingredients you can expect to find in reliable topical pain relievers.