How to Choose a Topical Analgesic to Relieve Pain
When pain is localized, for example in your left ankle, opting for a topical pain reliever can be a great alternative to tablets or capsules and a convenient way to treat it. Topical pain relievers are available in a range of different forms, including creams, lotions, ointments, gels, sprays, and patches. The form you opt for will depend primarily on the specific site of the pain and personal preferences.
Topical pain medications either use an anti-inflammatory drug or counterirritants to provide relief.
A topical anti-inflammatory drug for localized action
One of two anti-inflammatory drugs may be found in topical pain relievers available without a prescription: a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (diclofenac) or a salicylate (trolamine salicylate, an aspirin derivative).
Applying these products to the skin allows the medication to act only on the site of the pain and avoid certain adverse side effects, such as stomach irritation, that may arise when this type of medication is taken orally.
A counterirritant to create a diversion
Products containing counterirritants such as camphor, menthol, eucalyptus, methyl salicylate, and capsaicin cause mild skin irritation or inflammation accompanied by a feeling of heat or cold. This means you do not feel the pain as much, as your brain is momentarily occupied by this new sensation.
Topical doesn’t always mean safe
It is a common misconception that topical pain relievers will not affect your body like oral medications do. Parts of topical pain reliever ingredients will be absorbed through your skin and enter into your blood circulation. For this reason, people who are advised to avoid taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID) or salicylates orally because of an allergy or other reasons should also stay away from topical products that contain them.
Always validate with the pharmacist before using a topical analgesic in conjunction with another type of pain medication, some products may not be compatible or there may be a risk of an accidental overdose.
Regardless of the product you use, it is important to apply it to skin that is clean, and dry. Do not apply on open wounds or irritated skin. Help the medication work better by slowly rubbing it in (except for patches). Wash hands thoroughly after applying, to avoid getting the product in your eyes or mouth. Do not apply bandages or heat, like heating pads, to the treated area, as this increases the risk of skin irritation and burns.
When in doubt, your pharmacist can help you choose the product that best suits your needs.
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* The information contained herein is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide complete information on the subject matter or to replace the advice of a health professional. This information does not constitute medical consultation, diagnosis or opinion and should not be interpreted as such. Please consult your health care provider if you have any questions about your health, medications or treatment.