Natural compounds in topical creams, lotions and oils have been used throughout history for the relief of pain. The Western medical world is finally adopting and accepting the research that has shown positive results of natural topical treatments as an alternative to sometimes harsh prescriptions and medications.
Pain in the body is sent from the main location to the brain where we ‘feel’ the pain sensation. One of the theories supports that topicals act as a ‘counter-irritant’ on the skin to actually ‘cancel out’ or reduce the pain signal prior to being received at the brain. This is done through the stimulation of specific nerve fibers that are referred to as the ‘gate-control’.
In addition to pain reduction or elimination, some research supports that certain natural ingredients, such as menthol (such as that derived from eucalyptus) might stimulate the smaller diameter nerve fibers as opposed to the larger-diameter which sends more information to the brain.
Chronic pain is handled a bit differently by the body. Clinicians have made notations that patients who experience chronic pain for more than one month time period have additional sensitivities to temperature. It is believed that there is a link between temperature and chronic pain so that these two perceptions then share the same path to the brain via the spinal cord. The pain itself becomes centralized and the pain may be controlled by more of the brain than localized non-chronic pain.
What this equates to is the nerve’s specialized protein receptors can become sensitive to specific compounds that transmit the sense of warmth to the brain. The TRP (transient receptor proteins) may be able to be controlled by the natural compounds in topical treatments to reduce or eliminate the sensation of pain. Capsaicin, found in chili pepper, is another of the natural ingredients that seems to be able to have an effect on the protein receptors for temperature. Both menthol and capsaicin is believed to be able to stimulate the sensory fibers and therefore alter the thermal stimulation to chemical signals.
Natural topic pain relief is a temporary form and totally dependent upon the type and amount of active ingredient and the treatment length. Topical analgesics are applied to the skin at the point or area of the pain. The concentration of the active ingredient at the pain point allows absorption without the standard delay that ingested medications require. Unlike medications, which are associated with liver, stomach and kidney problems, natural topical pain relief is a form of ‘front-line’ treatment that can be used multiple times per day for temporary relief.
In the case of menthol, the cryotherapy acts in the same way as ice packs, and research has shown that this type of therapy can have similar effects such as increased pain threshold without the side effects of ice packs such as reduction of skin temperature, decreased elasticity, stiffness or extended periods of time for vasoconstriction. This is one of the reasons that natural topic pain relief is used by so many people in sports.
Always confer with a primary care physician before making any changes or additions to your medical regiment.