When joint pain cries out for relief but ibuprofen and other over-the-counter medicines upset the stomach, it may be worth trying a gentler alternative: anti-inflammatory pain relievers applied to the skin, not taken as a pill, reports the January 2013 issue of the Harvard Men's Health Watch.
Pain relievers applied to the skin are called topical analgesics. Prescription versions, which usually deliver nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), come as creams, sprays, gels, or patches. The active ingredient soaks in through the skin to reach the pain. In contrast, oral pain relievers flood the whole body with the medication after being absorbed in the gut. The most widely available prescription topical NSAID in U.S. pharmacies is diclofenac gel.
"Topical pain relievers can be very helpful for the more superficial joints like the knees, ankles, feet, elbows, and hands," says Dr. Rosalyn Nguyen, a clinical instructor in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School. "In those areas, the medication can penetrate closer to the joint."
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