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Osteoarthritis Health Center

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Arthritis and Topical Painkillers

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    If your arthritis pain is mild, if you have only a few joints affected by the disease, or if oral medications don't completely control your pain, you may find a topical pain reliever or topical analgesic useful.

    Topical painkillers are available as creams, salves, or gels. The active ingredients of topical painkillers include:

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    Walking to Ease Knee Pain

    It's a catch-22 when you have knee pain from osteoarthritis. It hurts, so you don't want to move. But if you exercise, it can eventually make your knees feel better. "I've gone a period of time when I haven’t moved a joint much and, when I first start, it's a little bit sore," says Denver physical therapist Eric Robertson, who has osteoarthritis. Robertson knows what it's like to be achy when he first starts moving. Your knee may hurt and ache, but it shouldn't keep you from doing your usual activities,...

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    • Capsaicin. Found naturally in hot peppers, capsaicin is found in drug stores under the brand names of Capzasin-P, Zostrix, and other drugs. Capsaicin works by blocking the transmission of a pain-relaying substance called substance P to the brain.
    • Counter-irritants. Camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol are found in a variety of agents such as ArthriCare, Eucalyptamint, and Icy Hot amongst others. These substances are able to relieve pain by tricking the body to feel the coolness or heat of these agents.
    • Salicylates. This substance is available in Aspercreme, BenGay, and Flexall. Salicylates work by decreasing pain and inflammation.
    • NSAIDs. Topical NSAIDs penetrate the skin barrier and deliver the medication to the site of pain. Pennsaid and Voltaren gel are examples.

    WebMD Medical Reference

    Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on January 13, 2015
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