Have you ever asked this question about gels or creams? There are many pain relief gels and creams available -some work by heating, others cooling and some claim analgesic (pain relief) effects. You will see shelves full of gels in the supermarkets and pharmacies it can be bewildering.
How do they work?
There are lots of different types of gels which work in different ways:
Pain killing gels include voltaren gel (which contains diclofenac) or ibuprofen gel. These gels interupt the production of chemicals in the cycle that causes inflammation and therefore reduce the amount of pain felt in an area. All NSAID painkillers including tablets, such as neurofen, aspirin and ibuprofen, work in a similar way. There are less side effects with applying gels to the skin compared to taking tablets.
Salicylates are heat gels. They cause heat by local skin irritation. It is not known how they actually do this.
Cold gels contain menthol which triggers cold receptors in the skin.
Capsaicin is the active ingredient from chilli peppers that makes them taste hot. It’s not known exactly how capsaicin works but it is thought to reduce the chemical that transmits signals along sensory nerves to the brain.
Are there any side effects?
There can be redness at the site of application. Around 1 in 20 people experience this mild, short-lived symptom. It is uncommon to get stomach upsets or feeling sick with gels.
Capsaicin causes side effects, mostly skin irritation, in 4 out of 10 people.
In my experience..
These gels seem to be very subjective in terms of their effectiveness. Some patients have amazing results, for others they do nothing. When patients ask me about which gel or cream to use I usually ask if they have used any before and found them to be effective. If so, I recommend using the same gel again. If the patient has no experience of them I usually say, it’s worth a try, whichever one they like. I’ll be answering this question in more detail soon.