Topical Pain Relief

Monday September 28, 2015 comments

Having some pain now and again is almost unavoidable. Pain is not necessarily unnatural or abnormal. In the correct measure pain is simply a form of communication, like “that’s too hot!” or “you ate too much” or “and when was the last time you used those muscles?” Pain that is proportional to the stimulus that triggers it, both in intensity and duration, is actually a healthy response.

For this type of muscle/joint-related pain some people like to take over-the-counter (OTC) medications. The major classes of OTC drugs are acetaminophen (such as Tylenol), ibuprofen (such as Advil), and naproxen (such as Aleve). The advantage of these medications is that they are relatively inexpensive, accessible, and effective – in the short term. The disadvantage is that they can and do cause liver and gastrointestinal damage if not taken carefully. I would never suggest taking these OTC drugs longer than the acute phase of any injury, which is about 24-72 hours only.

There are also natural alternatives to consider for pain relief. One very effective and proven modality is a flexible gel cold pack, which should be applied in cycles of 10-20 minutes duration on/off depending on the thickness of the body part. Another useful modality is topical pain relief lotions. Topical lotions basically work up to three different ways: soothing (menthol, camphor), medicated (OTC aspirin-like, or prescription drugs like lidocaine), and stimulating (capsaicin).

Rock SauceOne well known topical is Biofreeze, which has 3.5% menthol as its active ingredient. I like a product called Rock Sauce, developed by the people from Rock Tape. It has 20% salicylate (aspirin-like), 10% menthol, and .05% capsaicin - very strong so not for everyone, but it combines all three modes of action in a single product. The proper application of the lotion involves mild downward pressure on the skin at various points with two fingers and then moving the skin slightly back and forth over the underlying connective tissue – not just rubbing over the skin.

It is best to try natural remedies for pain when possible as they tend to have fewer side effects. Even if you do need prescription strength medication, sometimes you can lessen the dosage of drugs you are taking by supplementing a non-pharmaceutical solution.