There are a lot of technical ways to talk about topical pain preparations….but let’s keep it simple. The basic idea is to get pain relief by applying drugs topically (on the skin). Skin, the largest organ of the body, does a great job of protecting us from what we physically come in contact with. But it is not perfect. You have seen labels that read “Wash Hands Thoroughly After Use”. If you have chemical residue on your hands you don’t want to be touching other people, or rubbing you eyes. But the warning might also be there because the chemical in question might be absorbed through the skin.
Compounding pharmacists take advantage of the skin’s porosity to deliver drugs. Some drugs, especially hormones like progesterone and estrogens, will penetrate the skin as a powder, but this dosage form is almost never used because of lack of control of dosage. Rather, drugs are incorporated into a base vehicle (ointment, cream, lotion) that allows for dosage control and can, depending on the vehicle, facilitate the drugs penetration of the skin to the level desired for a particular type and location of pain.
Topical pain preparations, then, contain one or more active ingredients (analgesics, anti-inflammatories, anesthetics) which are incorporated into a penetrating vehicle (ointment, cream, lotion) and are applied topically on the skin to relieve pain. And they work!
The art of treating pain topically involves knowing what type of pain can be treated this way; what active ingredients, alone or in combination, work best in each case; what vehicle should be used; and, importantly, how much to apply and whereto apply it!
Our pharmacists have a wealth of experience in topical pain management. Give them a call.