Treatments

Over-the-Counter Topical Pain Medication Ingredients

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Topical pain medications are a valuable treatment option for individuals with chronic pain, especially individuals who have difficulty swallowing medication. Topical pain medications are available in cream, patch or spray form. With so many choices of over-the-counter (OTC) topical pain medications on the market, deciding which one to use can be overwhelming; looking at the active ingredients makes the choice easier.

Topical pain medication ingredients

Most topical pain medications work by providing a heating or cooling effect to the area, which reduces the sensation of pain. The most common ingredients in OTC medications include counter-irritants, salicylates and capsaicin.

Counter-irritants work by stimulating the nerves of the affected area to create a sensation that diverts the mind from pain. By introducing a new, more pleasant sensation, the individual is distracted from the pain. Menthol, methyl salicylate (oil of evergreen) and camphor are examples of counter-irritants.
Capsaicin, an extract from chili peppers, is an especially effective ingredient found in some topical pain medications. Capsaicin creams create a warming sensation on the skin and may cause a burning sensation which eases over time. In some cases, capsaicin cream may need to be applied for an extended amount of time before pain reduction is achieved (typically a few days to two weeks).
Salicylates are found in some pain-relieving creams. The same ingredient is found in aspirin. They are especially effective when applied on joints close to the skin, such as knees, fingers, toes and elbows.
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