Defined as discomfort that persists for 3-6 months or more, chronic pain can affect every aspect of your life. Both over-the-counter and prescription medications given orally may help control pain and minimize inflammation. However, there are many topical medications applied to the skin that may soothe aching muscles, restore mobility to joints by easing inflammation, and reduce your pain in the affected area.
How Topical Pain Medications Work
The largest organ of the human body, skin is highly versatile with many capabilities, one of which is the ability to absorb substances applied to its outermost layer. When topical pain medication is applied to the skin, it’s absorbed directly into the affected area, although the medication still circulates as its absorbed into tissues and the bloodstream. The type of medication applied topically will depend on the type of pain being treated and the area of application.
Some topical creams used to treat joint pain involving fingers, elbows, knees, and other areas close to the skin’s surface contain salicylates, the same pain-relieving ingredient found in aspirin. Counter-irritants are topical medications so-named because they create cooling or burning sensations meant to distract a patient from their pain. Topical applications with capsaicin provide relief while creating warm sensations that ease over time with use. Effective topical pain treatment may provide enough relief for patients to allow greater participation in physical therapy and exploration of other pain management efforts.
Forms of Topical Medication Delivery
The type of topical application varies depending on what’s being treated. For instance, medicated powder may be recommended for skin irritations affecting folds in the skin. Ointments, gels, and lotions can be used safely on most areas of the body, depending on the specific type of medication being administered through the skin. Some topical medications may be delivered in a solid form that melts when applied to the skin because of the body’s temperature. Because of the way topical treatments are administered, care must be taken with the handling of some medications in this form to avoid unintentional absorption.
When Topical Pain Treatment is Appropriate
Chronic pain often affects peripheral nerves, the 43 pairs of motor and sensory nerves connecting the spinal cord and brain. Since these nerves branch out throughout the entire body, pain sensations can be felt on the surface of the skin. An example of this is the pins-and-needles sensations sometimes experienced by diabetics in parts of the feet and other areas due to nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy). This type of pain is sometimes managed effectively with topical creams, gels, lotions, or ointments. Topical pain treatment may also be appropriate for:
- Pain linked to inflammation around joints
- Muscle strain from sports and fitness injuries
- Cancer pain
- Migraines and headaches
Various studies suggest prescription topical creams may provide much-appreciated relief if you’re one of the nearly 50 million Americans currently living with ongoing or recurring pain. Usually covered by insurance, topical pain treatment is one of several pain management options available from The Care Group that may allow you to enjoy a better quality of life with chronic pain.