The swollen joints from arthritis can cause quite a bit of pain and limit your ability to move. If you have arthritis, you probably want as many pain relief options as possible.
You may already have tried exercise and over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers you take by mouth. These include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. Another option is to try one of the many OTC topical creams that can help relieve arthritis pain. Here’s the low-down on these products to help you decide which arthritis cream might be best for you.
How arthritis creams work
Arthritis creams help relieve joint pain when applied to the skin. They can provide short-term but effective relief. These creams tend to work best on joints that are close to the surface of the skin, such as the joints in the hands or knees.
The main pain-relieving ingredients in arthritis creams are salicylates, counterirritants, and capsaicin.
Salicylates reduce inflammation (swelling and irritation). This helps decrease pressure and pain in the joints.
Some brands of salicylate products also contain other ingredients such as menthol, camphor, eucalyptus oil, and cinnamon oil. These substances are called counterirritants. They warm or cool the skin and distract the brain from pain.
Capsaicin is a natural, odor-free element found in hot chili peppers. It reduces pain by blocking the skin’s pain receptors.
List of OTC arthritis creams
The arthritis creams most commonly found in drugstores include:
Bengay pain relieving cream
Bengay arthritis cream is used to relieve muscle and bone pain. It contains salicylates, camphor, and menthol. Bengay reduces inflammation and has cooling and warming effects.
Icy Hot vanishing gel
Icy Hot contains menthol and salicylates. It provides an initial cooling sensation followed by heat. Icy Hot is a vanishing gel, so the scent disappears quickly. It may be a good choice if you don’t like the smell of menthol.
Aspercreme odor-free topical analgesic cream
People who don’t like the smell of arthritis creams may prefer odor-free Aspercreme. It contains salicylates, but no counterirritants. It may also be a good choice if your skin is sensitive to counterirritant ingredients.
Myoflex odorless pain relieving cream
This odorless salicylate cream absorbs into your skin quickly without a typical lotion-like feel. Myoflex may be a good pain relief option if you don’t like the greasy feel of many creams.
Capzasin-HP arthritis cream
The active ingredient in Capzasin-HP arthritis cream is capsaicin. Its warming sensation is much milder than the one you feel when you eat peppers. Still, you should stop using this cream if you find that the capsaicin irritates your skin.
Sportscreme deep penetrating pain relieving rub
The active ingredient in Sportscreme is salicylate. This scented cream has a thicker consistency than most, so it takes a little more rubbing to massage it into the skin.
Although arthritis creams are OTC products, you still need to use them properly. Follow these steps to help ensure safe, effective use of your arthritis cream.
- Always follow package directions when applying an arthritis cream.
- Wash your hands before and after you apply the cream. Never touch your eyes or mucus membranes when you have arthritis cream on your hands.
- Limit your use to four times per day, unless the package suggests otherwise.
- Stop using the cream if it causes any irritation or if you notice that your skin is sensitive to the product.
- If you’re sensitive or allergic to aspirin, ask your doctor if you should avoid salicylates. You may also need to avoid them if you take prescription blood thinners.
- To avoid side effects, use salicylate creams only occasionally, unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
with your doctor
With so many arthritis pain relief creams on the market, it can be hard to know which is right for you. Keep trying different products until you find one that you like. If you have questions or concerns, talk to your doctor. They can help you find the arthritis pain relief product that’s best for you.
What if OTC arthritis creams aren’t strong enough for me?
If you need stronger pain relief, talk to your doctor about a prescription topical NSAID. A prescription topical NSAID is stronger than OTC products. Topical NSAIDs also carry less risk of stomach upset, ulcers, or other problems than oral NSAIDs do. The only prescription topical NSAID currently available is called Voltaren (diclofenac). Talk to your doctor to find out if it’s right for you.Healthline Medical TeamAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.