How Do Topical Products Provide Pain Relief

There are many different kinds of medications with various delivery methods that are available for treating patients who are suffering from various forms of pain, such as neck or back pain.  Drugs that can help to provide pain relief include topical anesthetics, anti-anxiety medications, anti-depressants, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatories, and narcotics.  A doctor might combine several types of medications to provide maximum relief or to reduce the side effects that one large dose from a single agent can cause.  In this article, we will focus on topical products and how they can provide pain relief to patients.

Topical Pain Relievers Introduced

There are many topical pain relief drugs and products that are available.  These products include patches, sprays, gels, ointments, and creams that are applied to your skin.   Topical drugs are designed to reduce the amount of inflammation beneath the surface of the skin and soothe any nerve pain.  There are some topical pain relievers that may be purchased over-the-counter while others are only available by prescription from a doctor.

In 1980, the very first transdermal or TTX (through the skin) therapeutic product was introduced.  Since that time, scientists all over the world have continued to develop more expedient and safer methods for delivering supplements, hormones, and drugs into the body.  It is becoming increasingly popular to administer health-enhancing formulations and medications through the skin.

Unlocking the Body’s Skin Cells

The human body’s largest organ is the skin.  It acts as a protective barrier, controls fluid loss, regulates temperature, and performs numerous other functions that are critical to homeostasis (having a healthy internal balance).  Your skin is made up of many layers and supports your blood supply.   Blood vessels pass under the skin within a connective tissue framework that includes fascia (gristle holding tissues together) and fat.  Under this layer are the muscles and bones.  There are also nerve endings contained in the skin which carry pain, temperature, and touch signals from your skin to your spinal cord and brain.

Human Skin Anatomy     

Compounds have been developed by scientists to carry medications as well as other compounds safely via the layers of skin and into your blood.  It is believed that there are certain compounds that can help with penetrating the skin barrier through opening up channels that have closed.  Those penetration enhancers can help your skin absorb the medicine.

Topical Pain Medications for Pain Relief

Pain specialists might recommend topical pain relievers to help with relief it works, for symptoms of various neck, back, and other pain disorders.  For instance, a topical medicine might be used for treating pain associated with various types of nerve pain, muscle spasms and inflammation, whiplash, lower back and neck strain, rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Topical Pain Relief Products


Spray, gel, ointment, and cream-based products make application controllable and easy.

Usually, the onset of pain relief is faster compared to oral medications.

Pain relief occurs at a steady and consistent rate and can provide long-lasting relief.

When applied topically, a smaller dose of medicine might be needed.

The formulations are diffused directly through your skin and then enter into your bloodstream.  The digestive system is bypassed initially. Many systematic side effects, including an irritated stomach lining, can be eliminated or reduced.


Blood flows to the various parts of your body in different ways.  Therefore, it is essential that the patient is taught how to properly use the product.  For example, a patient needs to know where the product should be applied (such as their abdomen or arm) and how frequently.

Also, over time, blood flow into a certain part of your body may change.  When the weather is cold, blood vessels going into the skin may contract which can decrease how much of the medication is absorbed.  Sweating and exercise might open your pores up too much and wash away or increase the inflow of medication.

Given that the use of topical products is different than products that are taken by injection or orally, some patient might need to pay closer attention to how to properly use them.

Topical products may cause skin reactions.  Patients need to be aware of what they should do in case they suffer an allergic or another type of reaction.

Spinal nerves and skin nerves are not the same.  That is why certain kinds of neck and back pain don’t respond well to topical forms of treatments.

Topical treatments do not work well on spinal disorders that originate deep inside of the body.

Are topical pain relief products right for you?

Is using a topical pain relief medication the best treatment for you and your pain?  You need to consult with your doctor or a pain specialist to answer this question.  Depending on your medical history and diagnosis, your physician will have different treatments that are available for managing and relieving pan.

Creams, patches, and other topical products can be used for delivering various kinds of medications, including pain relief ones.  These transdermal agents are becoming increasingly possible due to their convenience as well as their reduced risk for side effects.

For example, a patient who is suffering from severe, chronic pain might be able to apply a fentanyl patch one time every three day instead of having to take pills every six hours. When a patient has a localized tendon or muscle inflammation, applying cream to the area that is affected can help to limit how much medication gets into other areas of the body where medication is not needed. For patients who have problems with their stomach and have a difficult time taking anti-inflammatories orally, using a topical cream can help them stay physically active.

As you can see, topical products can be an effective pain relief method that isn’t associated with a lot of harmful side effects.  To decide on the best treatment for you, it is critical to speak with your personal physician or pain specialist to determine the best course of action to take. Always make sure to use topical products as directed by your healthcare professional.

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