You’ve heard about them; everyone is using them – topical pain gels are a popular and low-cost method for quick pain relief. No matter how much you try to take care of your muscles and joints, everyone eventually experiences soreness or pain.
This is to be expected, pain is a part of life, and any kind of relief is more than welcome. While these pain gels have been reported by many as effective for costochondritis, they are effective for most all types of muscular aches and pains. Though some may choose oral medications or other costochondritis treatments, some decide to use topical medications such as gels and creams. In this article, we will take a better look at the effects of these pain relievers and what you can expect from them.
How Do Topical Pain Gel and Creams Work?
Topical gels and creams are a safe way of soothing pain and inflammation in the joints and muscles. Many have potent anti-inflammatory properties that can overwhelm the pain sensations and reduce the pain. As costochondritis is an inflammatory condition, pain relief creams with anti-inflammatory effects (such as Penetrex) can be especially effective.
These gels and creams come in various forms. Some are applied and rubbed onto the skin until the skin absorbs them. Others come in a patch or a spray that sticks to the skin. Even though they use different ingredients, they are all absorbed by the skin. The key to their effects lies in the ingredients.
Some of the active ingredients they include are:
Anesthetics create a numbing sensation that helps soothe the pain, and Lidocaine is one of the most common. Capsaicin is an ingredient that can create a burning-like sensation when applied. This is a compound derived from chili peppers, which is where the warm sensations come from. The point of this ingredient is not to hurt the skin, but to deplete the nerve cells from the chemical responsible for the pain signals.
While Counterirritants are completely different, they can create a hot and cold sensation that lasts for a short time. This sensation overrides the pain and helps soothe it. Lastly, the Salicylates have one goal, and that is to distract from the main pain points. This is the same substance used in aspirin; in other words, it has potent anti-inflammatory properties.
Safety Tips for Pain Relief Creams
Before you decide to use any of these products, make sure to read the instructions. Use them only as specified. If you use them in sensitive areas, like the eyes, for example, they can have side effects or hurt the skin. Even though side effects are very rare, it is still important to pay attention to the use and avoid using too much or misusing the creams.
Don’t heat any of these creams, like using a heating pad, for example. If you do that, the bloodstream will absorb the cream much faster than predicted and can cause problems for the skin.
When you use any topical cream or gel, make sure to:
- Read the instructions before using them
- Avoid applying them to sensitive areas including injured, irritated, or open wounds
- Do not use heat to warm them up
- Stop using these products if you experience highly uncomfortable and painful sensations
- Avoid using these products if you are pregnant
How Can Topical Pain Creams Help Costochondritis?
Costochondritis is a health problem that causes inflammation in the area around the ribs and chest pain. Since these creams have anti-inflammatory properties and soothing pain effects, they can be useful to treat the pain caused by costochondritis.
Some of the most popular pain relief creams include Biofreeze, Penetrex, Tiger Balm, and Icy Hot. Even though these gels may look similar, every one of them has unique properties, smells, uses, and prices.
When applied to the affected area, Biofreeze will create a super cold sensation. The main ingredient in this product is menthol, which is why it relies on cryotherapy to achieve the results. It has a powerful minty smell and potent soothing properties. Research says that this form of therapy has anti-analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant effects ideal for soreness and inflammation. The product can last for several hours, up to four, though it depends on your tolerance and pain level.
Penetrex doesn’t create a hot or cold sensation and it’s not as smelly as other products on the market, but it is still equally effective. Instead of delivering its effects via heat or cold therapy, it relies on chemicals to achieve the pain relieving effect. The main ingredients in Penetrex include vitamin B6, Arnica, and Methylsulfonylmethane (or MSM). According to research, vitamin B6 is crucial for speeding up the healing process of the skin cells in the human body. Penetrex doesn’t have an oily texture like some other creams do, and it’s ideal for joint pain since it creates quick results that can last a pretty long time.
Tiger Balm is an herbal-based ointment for muscle, joint, back, and abdominal pain. There are two main ingredients; one is camphor, which is known for providing a potent cooling sensation that soothes discomfort. And the other is menthol, which is ideal for cramps. Some people think Tiger Balm smells like a Christmas candle. The camphor is the one that gives of the candle-like smell, while the menthol balances it out. It lasts more than a couple of hours, which should be enough to get the necessary results.
One of the most well-known pain creams, Icy Hot is ideal for cramps, bruises, sprains, back pain, and arthritis. It provides temporary relief for minor pains. It has a unique smell like amber with a hint of peppermint. Compared to the other gels here, this one doesn’t have such a powerful smell. In fact, the scent will dissipate in a matter of minutes. When the product is first applied to the skin, it creates cold sensations. But, as time passes, these sensations become hotter – hence the name. The main ingredient is menthol. When combined with the rest of the ingredients, the solution helps divert the attention from the pain and stops the nerve signals from getting to the brain. This cream works for about 3-4 hours, depending on the affected area, injury, and pain tolerance.
Even though all of these creams are effective, they come at different prices and have different ingredients, qualities, strengths, and even smell differently. Whether you need them for costochondritis or any other condition, you can make use of these creams to safely treat any pain you are dealing with.
Have you had success in treating your costochondritis symptoms with pain gels or creams like Icy Hot, Biofreeze, or others? Please feel free to leave a comment below and tell others about your experience.
Dr. Ahmed Zayed is a surgery resident practicing plastic surgery and working on his masters degree. Dr. Zayed has a passion for helping people live healthy lives, and has authored several books. He has contributed to publications such as the Washington Post, HuffPo, Chicago Tribune, and more. Dr. Zayed has an MD from the University of Alexandria, one of the largest medical schools in Egypt.