Topical pain medicine may offer a viable option to pills
THE QUESTION After straining or spraining a muscle or tendon, might rubbing or spraying on a painkiller ease the hurt?
THIS STUDY analyzed data from 31 studies, involving 3,455 people 16 and older who had pain from a musculoskeletal injury, such as a twisted ankle or a sore muscle. They had been randomly assigned to apply either a placebo or a gel, cream or spray form of a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to the skin at the pain site daily. After one to two weeks, 65 percent of those who used a topical NSAID reported that their pain was cut in half or more, compared with 43 percent of those who used a placebo. No serious side effects were recorded.
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? People who have pain related to muscle or tendon strains, sprains or soreness. Taking an NSAID in pill form, though it is proven to reduce such pain, can heighten the risk for indigestion and gastrointestinal bleeding.
CAVEATS Formulations used in the studies differed and involved a variety of NSAIDs -- including some incorporating ibuprofen, diclofenac, ketoprofen and piroxicam -- but did not include products new to the market. The authors theorized that the high success rate for people using a placebo was because "conditions like sprained ankles tend to get better on their own eventually."
FIND THIS STUDY 2010 issue 6 of the Cochrane Library.
-- Linda Searing
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.