Even if you haven’t used them yourself, you’ll have come across them on countless occasions. Pharmaceutical companies worldwide now routinely pushing topical anti-inflammatory painkillers as a potentially preferable alternative to conventional painkillers. But then again, those who create them would of course suggest that they’re both safe to use and effective in the extreme.

The question being – do topical anti-inflammatory painkillers really work?

What are topical anti-inflammatory painkillers?

As the name suggests, topical anti-inflammatory painkillers are a type of anti-inflammatory painkiller designed to be applied topically, rather than through normal ingestion. They can be purchased in the form of gels, foams, patches and creams, which contain one or more anti-inflammatory medicines and are applied directly to the affected area. The purpose of topical anti-inflammatory painkillers being to relieve pain and inflammation attributed to muscle spasms, strains, sprains and a variety of chronic pain issues.

How do topical anti-inflammatory painkillers work?

As they are made with the same basic active ingredients, topical anti-inflammatory painkillers work in exactly the same way as their conventional counterparts. Anti-inflammatories are usually ingested by mouth, subsequently passing into the digestive system and entering the body. The issue with traditional anti-inflammatories being that they cannot be used to target a single area, but instead deliver their effects across the entire body.

With topical anti-inflammatory painkillers, the active ingredients are not ingested and therefore only have an effect on the area of the body to which they are applied. Introduced to the skin, the active ingredients slowly work their way deeper beneath the surface to where the problem is occurring. Typically the muscle or tissues responsible for the pain and discomfort beneath the skin.

What are the advantages of topical anti-inflammatory painkillers?
The primary advantage of topical anti-inflammatory painkillers is the way in which they are suitable for targeted treatment. When you ingest anti-inflammatory painkillers the normal way, their effect extends to absolutely every inch of the body from top to bottom. Not necessarily dangerous for the average healthy adult, but potentially problematic for those who may have allergies or are prone to certain side-effects. In addition, as the topical anti-inflammatory painkiller is applied directly to the problematic area, it has the potential to reach its target much faster. Rather than having to travel all the way through the body to get to where it needs to be, it is simply applied to the affected area immediately.

When are topical anti-inflammatory painkillers recommended?

Topicals are recommended for an extensive range of conditions, which typically center on muscle pains, joint issues and similar problems. In many instances, patients are given the option of trying conventional painkillers or topical anti-inflammatory painkillers, in order to see which suits them best. Some professionals are far more inclined to offer topical anti-inflammatory painkillers than conventional painkillers where possible – the same also applying in reverse with other doctors. In instances where patients have any kinds of allergies or sensitivities to conventional painkillers, topical anti-inflammatory painkillers may be recommended as a safe and viable alternative.

Do topical anti-inflammatory painkillers actually work?

As far as both anecdotal and scientific research would seem to suggest, the answer is yes. As is the case with all medicines and approaches to treatment, topical anti-inflammatory painkillers cannot and will not work with every patient across the board. The way in which topical anti-inflammatory painkillers react with both the body and the condition in question will always be fundamentally different from one person to the next. While some find uniquely powerful relief using topical anti-inflammatory painkillers with absolutely no side-effects, others have entirely the opposite experience. Precisely why it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor or a qualified professional if planning on self-managing any kind of condition with topical anti-inflammatory painkillers.

What are the possible side-effects?

For the most part, topical anti-inflammatory painkillers can be used with the absolute minimal risk of side-effects. Even in instances where the patient may have sensitivities to typical painkillers, topical anti-inflammatory painkillers could still represent a safe and viable approach to treatment. In most instances, side-effects where present are limited to relatively mild skin rashes and surface irritation. When this occurs, it’s important to cease use of the product immediately and speak to a doctor or pharmacist for advice. Allergic reactions are also experienced on rare occasions, though again tend to be relatively mild in nature. If you have any existing allergies or sensitivities whatsoever, it is important to speak to a doctor or qualified professional, before using topical anti-inflammatory painkillers of any kind.

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Author's Bio: 

Chili is a physical therapist with 16 years of experience in outpatient orthopedics. She has pursued advanced professional training in differential diagnosis of complex orthopedic conditions, and surgical rehabilitation. Caring for patients and helping them get better is Chili’s passion. In her treatments, she focuses on achieving correct biomechanics, and myofascial and muscular balance to restore healthy movement and prevent re-injury. Her approach is gentle and collaborative and involves careful reassessment of the various factors that is contributing to pain and injury.