Neuropathy or damage to one or more nerves can cause persistent chronic pain . Also called peripheral neuropathy , it often presents with numbness, burning, or tingling in the hands or feet. The exact source is difficult to identify, as hundreds of diseases, including diabetes , are associated with neuropathic pain . While oral medications and nerve blocks, such as steroid injections, can be given to relieve pain, topical creams containing capsaicin and lidocaine are common and affordable treatments for your neuropathy. They can be applied directly to uncomfortable areas .
How Topical Creams Relieve Neuropathy Pain
Topical neuropathy creams are applied directly to the skin over localized pain. The medications in these creams are absorbed into the skin, relieving inflammation and pain. Two types of topical medications are used to treat neuropathy :
Pain Relief Creams
This refers to over-the-counter topical pain relievers that are rubbed into the skin. These medications contain capsaicin, which is actually obtained from the seeds of hot peppers. This substance can limit the ability of nerve cells to transmit pain signals to the brain and ultimately relieve mild pain that can throb near the surface of the skin.
These medications relieve and block local pain by numbing the area where they are injected. Lidocaine is an example of an ingredient in these topical creams. EMLA is a prescription pain reliever cream that numbs the skin in just one hour after application, while a lidocaine patch is something that can also be used to relieve this type of pain.
Capsaicin, found in hot chili pepper seeds, is used for pain relief from a wide variety of sources, including back pain, headaches, rheumatoid arthritis , shingles , and tendonitis , among many others .
When it comes to treating neuropathy, the effectiveness of capsaicin has been studied in many studies. A 2012 review found that a topical cream with 0.075% capsaicin showed a statistically significant benefit in postherpetic neuralgia, postoperative neuropathies, and diabetic neuropathy compared to placebo .
Another review found that this type of topical capsaicin treatment produces only moderate to low efficacy, but that it may be the best treatment for people who do not respond or do not respond to other treatments for their neuropathic pain .
Additionally, another review examined eight published clinical trials with a total of 2488 participants that were tested to investigate the effectiveness of a high-strength capsaicin patch in people with neuropathic pain caused by HIV neuropathy, diabetic peripheral neuropathy, and postherpetic neuralgia. … A small number of those who used the patch reported that their pain was relieved "very or very" .
Some over-the-counter capsaicin creams that you can find at your pharmacy include :
Most OTC forms of capsaicin provide fairly low doses. Kutenza is a high-dose (8%) drug prescribed by a healthcare professional, usually for the treatment of diabetic neuropathy of the feet.
How to use capsaicin
There are a few things to keep in mind when using capsaicin:
- Keep it away from eyes and mucous membranes.
- When using lotion or cream, do not apply to open cuts, wounds, or damaged skin.
- Make sure this cream is out of the reach of small children and pets.
Lidocaine is an anesthetic that blocks the transmission of pain signals through the sensory nervous system . Topical creams and ointments that contain lidocaine cause loss of sensation in the skin around areas of localized pain and can be used to treat a variety of injuries, from scratches and insect bites to minor burns .
Research has shown that lidocaine can relieve nerve pain. A 2017 study showed that topical lidocaine treatment was effective for people with peripheral neuropathic pain who could not tolerate oral treatment or found these treatments to be detrimental to their health .
Common over-the-counter lidocaine-based creams include :
EMLA is a conventional lidocaine-based prescription cream. It numbs the skin for an hour after application .
What to watch out for with lidocaine
Healthcare professionals suggest that you take care to avoid injury while the area where the cream was applied is still numb, as you may not notice new pain. Be sure to avoid applying this medicine to areas with open wounds, cuts, or sores. This can increase your risk of negative side effects, including:
- Allergic reactions such as skin rashes.
- Difficulty breathing
- Dizziness and drowsiness
- Fever and chills
- Threw up
Menthol is an organic compound derived from peppermint oils or created synthetically. Topical creams containing this substance have been used to relieve minor pain and have been shown to be effective in treating chemotherapy -induced peripheral neuropathy .
Recent studies have shown that menthol creams used to treat chemotherapy-induced neuropathy are beneficial because of their rapid efficacy, low cost, and easy availability, and because they are not drugs .
Leading cancer centers like the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have stated that menthol creams can be effective topical treatments for neuropathy .
Here are some common over-the-counter creams and ointments that contain menthol :
- Absorbin Jr.
DicloStream is a topical cream that consists of diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), and menthol. It is usually prescribed for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis. Research has shown that this drug can be used to effectively treat neuropathic pain .
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that products containing more than 3% menthol as a single ingredient or in combination with methyl salicylate can cause skin burns. In extreme cases, there may be second and third degree burns. As always, check with your doctor before moving on to a new pain management regimen .
In addition to menthol, there are other organic compounds that can help relieve pain caused by neuropathy. Many medicinal herbs have natural anti-inflammatory properties. Some common herbal products that you can buy without a prescription include :
While it's easy to be skeptical about herbal medications, research has shown how these substances can ease nerve pain. A 2018 review mentions some common plants with suitable neuropathy-fighting properties, such as Acorus calamus, Artemisia dracunculus, Butea monosperma, Citrullus colocynthis, Curcuma longa, Crocus sativus, Elaeagnus angustifolia , and ginkgo biloba, among others. This review suggests that some herbal plants may be suitable candidates for the treatment of neuropathic pain, as these natural substances have antioxidant, anti- inflammatory , anti-apoptotic, neuroprotective and calcium inhibitory properties .
Get the word of drug information
The pain associated with chronic neuropathy can be devastating and even debilitating. This constant irritation and pain can make it difficult for you to go about your daily activities with ease. That's why finding treatments that are easily applied and affordable, such as topical creams and ointments, may be the best solution for relieving your chronic pain. Whether you're looking for over-the-counter products, prescription drugs, or herbal medications, be sure to consult with your doctor to determine which treatment might be best for you.