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Female athlete spraying topical analgesic on sports injury

How do Topical Analgesics Work?

Topical analgesics are medications that are applied directly to the skin to provide pain relief. They work by targeting pain receptors in the skin, muscles, or joints, and inhibiting the transmission of pain signals to the brain. The exact mechanisms of action can vary depending on the specific type of topical analgesic.

Why are topical analgesics so great?

  • Topical analgesics are relatively safe
  • They are non-steroidal
  • Anti-inflammatory pills can cause side effects - topicals do not
  • They are shown to be effective in blind trials against placebos
  • Topicals are site-specific
  • Ingredients can vary for multi-modal relief
  • They are really easy to use

Common types of topical analgesics and how they work:

Counterirritants: These types create a cooling or heating sensation on the skin, which helps to distract from the underlying pain. They work by causing a mild irritation or numbing effect on the skin, which can reduce pain perception. This distracts from the original pain source. Examples include menthol, camphor, and capsaicin. Product examples include Biofreeze, which incorporates menthol.

"The best thing I have found so far for arthritis pain and muscle pains. I even have my dad and mom using it now and they really like it too."
- Barbara R. on Biofreeze.

Salicylates: These are substances similar to aspirin and have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. They work by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins, which are chemicals that contribute to pain and inflammation. Examples include methyl salicylate and trolamine salicylate. Medistik utilises salicylate to ease pain, and menthol to cause a cooling sensation.

"Quick acting, topical pain relief. I was surprised at how quickly it works on my painful back and hips. Allows me to fall asleep instead of lying in pain."
- Anna-Maria K. on Medistik.

Local Anaesthetics: These analgesics temporarily numb the area where they are applied. They work by blocking the transmission of pain signals from the nerves to the brain. Examples include lidocaine and benzocaine. These are considered medications, and are not typically used in massage therapy. Local anaesthetics work by targeting pain receptors in the skin, muscles, or joints, and inhibiting the transmission of pain signals to the brain. Zensa Numbing Cream is a local anaesthetic that contains 5% lidocaine.

Lidocaine is an amino amide type anaesthetic that changes the conductivity of nerve cells, actually numbing the tissue. It takes effect within minutes and can last as long as three hours.

Topical analgesics can relieve various types of pain, including:

  • Musculoskeletal pain: They can provide relief for muscle aches, strains, sprains, and joint pain, such as arthritis.

  • Nerve pain: Some topical analgesics can be effective for neuropathic pain, which is caused by damage or dysfunction of the nerves. Examples include lidocaine patches for post-herpetic neuralgia.

  • Minor injuries: They can help with minor burns, cuts, bruises, and insect bites.

It's important to note that topical analgesics generally provide localized and temporary pain relief and are not intended for widespread or chronic pain. They are typically recommended for acute, mild to moderate pain in specific areas.

Always follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer before using topical analgesics.

Stopain Clinical Gel combines two types of menthol for quick and effective pain relief, making it a counteriritant.

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