When you’re in pain, nothing else matters. Chronic pain can be due to arthritis, back problems, fibromyalgia and many other sources. Transient pain, from physical exertion or injury, can be equally disruptive. You want help, but many of us are skeptical about taking prescription painkillers, worried about addiction, side effects and interactions with other medications. Currently pain relief, in the form of creams, gels, ointments and patches, can provide a cheaper, less invasive method. Find out what’s available, how they work, if they work and where to find them.

Different Types of Pain Relief

Currently, pain relief comes in four basic types: counter-irritants, analgesics, capsaicin (chili pepper extract) products and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs.) Counter-irritants cause a feeling of heat or cold on the skin, giving soothing temporary relief. They contain ingredients like menthol, oil of evergreen or eucalyptus oil. Some examples are BIOFREEZE, Flexall and Icy Hot.

painkillers are aspirin-like products containing salicylates. They provide temporary pain relief and can reduce inflammation as they are absorbed into the skin. These are marketed as BenGay, Aspercreme, Mobisyl and Sportcreme, to name a few. Capsaicin (chili pepper extract products) produces the burning sensation associated with chili peppers, but works by destructive nerve cells in a neurotransmitter called P, which is required for sending pain messages (mayoclinic.com). They are sold as Capzasin, Zostrix and many other brands. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory creams and rhinitis may be similar to NSAIDs you take in pill form. For more information on prescription strength NSAID preparations, see below.


To buy non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug diklofenac in gel or plastics form, you will need a prescription from your doctor. All the other appropriate remedies mentioned above are available at the pharmacy or convenience stores over-the-counter. You can also order many current pain relief preparations online.

According to Stephanie Siegrest, MD, an expert in the treatment of osteoarthritis, one can not expect these treatments to penetrate all the soft tissue layers into the joints. Currently painkillers work with soft tissues.