Harvard Men's Health Watch recommends topical analgesics for acute joint pain

BOSTON — Topical pain relievers may be better suited for joint pain, according to a report published in the January 2013 issue of the Harvard Men's Health Watch

"Topical pain relievers can be very helpful for the more superficial joints like the knees, ankles, feet, elbows and hands," stated Rosalyn Nguyen, a clinical instructor in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School. "In those areas, the medication can penetrate closer to the joint."

The source of pain usually determines if a topical pain reliever is appropriate. For a localized problem with just one joint causing the pain, there's no need for medication to travel throughout the body, Nguyen noted. A topical analgesic isn't that helpful when pain emanates across an extended area, like the lower back.

Nguyen recommended trying a prescription topical analgesic, such as diclofenac gel. However, for patients looking for over-the-counter pain relief, Nguyen recommended Icy Hot or Bengay, which temporarily masks pain with a sensation of coolness or heat. 

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