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Is Gel or Cream Better for Pain Relief?

Aug. 06, 2022

Whether you suffer from arthritis pain, are an athlete hoping to find relief from an injury, or you sprained your knee while working in the yard - you've likely reached for a bottle of topical pain reliever at one time or another. These over-the-counter products are applied directly to the skin and come in gels, creams, sprays, and patches.


What ingredients are in topical pain relievers and how do they work?

Over-the-counter topical pain relievers usually include methyl salicylate (also known as oil wintergreen). This ingredient gives topical pain relievers a minty flavor and creates a cooling sensation when applied to the skin.


Methyl salicylate is often used as a counter-irritant, essentially acting as a distraction to the point of pain. Depending on the product and the other ingredients in it, these rub-on therapies may also contain non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). You know that NSAIDs come from drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin. When it is absorbed into the skin, it can reduce the inflammatory response.

Pain Relief Cream

 Pain Relief Cream

Some topical pain relievers also contain capsaicin, a compound found in chili peppers that is responsible for producing a warm sensation.


Other products may contain menthol, also known as menthol camphor, which produces a cooling sensation and can trick people into thinking their skin or body temperature is dropping. In return, this cooling sensation desensitizes nerve endings. Like ice or cold packs, menthol decreases arterial blood flow.


Why would anyone use topical pain relievers?

Topical pain relievers work best for acute musculoskeletal pain, not chronic pain. Therefore, if you have unbearable neck pain or a strained shoulder muscle, you may benefit from applying a layer.


These products are also used to treat.



Minor aches and pains.

Muscle strains or soreness.

Sprains and strains.

Cancer-related discomfort and pain have also been shown to be improved by topical pain relievers.

Lidocaine Cream

 Lidocaine Cream

Gels, creams, sprays, or patches - what's best?

It all comes down to personal preference, but it's important to review the active ingredients in each product. If you're looking for an easy-to-use spray with capsaicin, it may only be available in gel form. So, read the label first and decide what you are looking for.


Patches usually work well in areas where they can be applied on a flat surface, so it may be best to reach for this product for back or neck pain. On the other hand, creams or gels may be best used for elbow or knee pain so that the joint can still move and bend.

Deep Cold Pain Relief Gel

 Deep Cold Pain Relief Gel

If you use topical pain relievers, be sure to


Read the label carefully before using the product.

Do not apply to open wounds or skin that has been injured or irritated.

Do not use it near the eyes.

Do not use heat, especially heating pads or hot water.

If a rash develops, discontinue use and tell your doctor.

If the burning sensation is too painful and uncomfortable, use a towel to remove the product from the skin.

Experts recommend not using topical pain relievers (of any kind) if you are pregnant.

Contact us today to learn more about Health & Beyond's best pain relief creams.

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