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How do I Choose the Best Joint Pain Reliever?

By Maggie J. Hall
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Cold and warm compresses, topical ointments, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and oral supplements are generally the most recommended methods for treating joint pain. Formulated to work from the skin’s surface inward, ointments, compresses or joint pain relievers containing capsaicin or salicylic acid provide pain relief, whereas over-the-counter NSAIDS typically reduce inflammation while diminishing discomfort. Multiple studies suggest that supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin also reduce the inflammation and discomfort related to joint injury.

Common localized joint pain in adults usually results from an injury or the effects of aging, and strained ligaments and tendons often result in painful sprains. Repetitive use or excessive movement of a particular joint may bring about inflammation and discomfort. Generally, as people age, the cartilage cushioning joints and preventing friction between the bones deteriorates, causing varying degrees of discomfort related to the amount of wear and tear. Any one of these situations may result in the need for a joint pain reliever.

Alternating cold and warm compresses on an injured joint often aids healing and provides relief. During the first day after injury, an ice pack acts as a joint pain reliever by reducing swelling and inflammation. Soothing irritated nerves and tissue generally decreases pain, and warm applications promote blood circulation to the affected area. The increased blood flow and the nutrients contained in the blood provide the necessary tools for the repair process.

Capsaicin skin patches of various sizes are generally used for chronic joint pain relief. Researchers believe that the heat produced by capsaicin penetrates the skin and desensitizes irritated nerves by depleting the neurotransmitters responsible for the pain signals. Physicians suggest that the pain relieving effect increases with additional applications; however, capsaicin cream for joint pain must be applied sparingly, or skin irritation can occur.

Salicylic acid is a component of aspirin. This joint pain reliever has both analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Commonly found in ointments combined with some form of menthol, salicylates penetrate the skin and inhibit the neurotransmitters that send pain signals. The menthol acts by producing a soothing cooling or warming effect, that dulls the pain sensation. Salicylates or other forms of NSAIDS should not be used for joint pain in children unless approved by a health care professional.

Over-the-counter NSAIDS, including aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen typically eliminate inflammation while providing adequate joint pain management. Health care professionals, however, suggest that chronic use of NSAIDS can cause abnormal bleeding or gastrointestinal ulceration. Acetaminophen may also be used for pain relief, but does not have anti-inflammatory properties.

Glucosamine and chondroitin are over-the-counter oral supplements that are commonly used for joint pain. The joint pain reliever glucosamine occurs naturally throughout the body and is a constituent of the fluid that surrounds joints. Chondroitin is a naturally forming compound that is found in cartilage. Scientists have discovered that glucosamine and chondroitin used individually or in combination reduce joint pain and inflammation but do not repair or replace cartilage.

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Discussion Comments
By heilbrun — On Jun 07, 2011

Studies seem to be ongoing concerning the benefits of DMSO. The substance causes humans to emit a strong, garlic-like odor and is not without possible toxic effects. DMSO acts as a powerful diuretic and may cause a wide range of adverse effects in humans with long term use. Some believe the substance acts as a ferry for distributing other medications throughout the body. Dimethlysulphoxide's ability to readily permeate skin and other tissues may cause toxic effects when combined with other substances.

By anon161040 — On Mar 18, 2011

DMSO - dimethylsulphoxide - is a potent but very simple solution to many kinds of joint /arthritic pains and sprains. The FDA has yet to approve it for human usage, but is extensively used to massage horses, and if this can help horses, why not the human race?

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