Do topical treatments work?

When the problems are joints and muscle cramps, there are a lot of topical treatments that are marketed at you. But should you use them?

I am not medically qualified, but I have tried a lot of them out and read a lot of labels, so here is my layperson’s view:

There are probably two underlying reasons that you are looking at topical treatments:

  1. For pain management
  2. For localised healing

These two things are linked by the need to reduce inflammation – key for the early stages of healing, and inherently linked to localised pain.

I think that there are better ways to get to pain reduction?

Many of the medicated creams and patches are delivering ibuprofen or a similar drug. These are strong drugs that can have a major impact on your organs (especially if you are not well hydrated). So my recommendation is that if you need that pharmaceutical, take it orally and monitor the dose carefully. Trying to understand the dose from cream or patch is much harder.

Some help pain relief by delivering warming, or heating component via a chemical reaction. Temperature management is a great way of helping the body with pain. But personally, I would prefer to do it with a wheat bag (for heat) or an ice pack (for cold), rather than a chemical reaction.

But massaging the scar tissue with a suitable substance seems a good plan

It is universally agreed that massaging the scar tissue is key for helping the healing of scar tissue. And massaging in nutrients that are going to help seems like a good plan. Although it should be noted that every substance can have side-effects, so you should read all of the labels and look up the potential side-effects so that you know what to look out for.

Whether these are crushed Epsom salts in olive oil (for the Magnesium – to sedate the nervous system and draw out the toxins from the muscles). Or a magnesium sulphate spray or cream for the same effects (but a more expensive price tag! Reflecting the convenience of not having to crush the salts in a polythene bag with a rolling pin and mix in the oil!).

I also realise that there are different views. I love to read the blogs from Paul Ingraham on painscience.com and this one on Epsom Salts is apparently one of his most read:  https://www.painscience.com/articles/epsom-salts.php . I think that he does accept that some things can cross the skin, but is sceptical on the impact of magnesium sulphate. You can read his blog and decide for yourself (and indeed if Epsom Salts in the bath works for you – who cares if it is a placebo effect if it works for you?)

Or maybe Aloe Vera or Arnica-based creams/patches to reduce the inflammation and support the next stage of healing. I have to admit that I prefer the creams – as the patches do not encourage the massaging, and this is really important for the benefit to the scar tissue. Additionally, with the creams you see and control the dosage a little more – which is not so clear with patches.

Probably the best option is a skincare product with vitamin D (like Bio Oil) to moisturise and care for the scar tissues when you massage them. And always make sure that you put a high factor sun cream on the area for any exposure to the sun, as the new skin is very vulnerable.

When the pain goes down the leg or arm

The challenge of a lot of the nerve-based cramping is that the pain in the muscles put into continuous cramping can be completely debilitating. Massaging in muscle-relaxing gels or creams can help to reduce this secondary issue, although obviously, it is short-lived as it does not address the nerve issue that is causing the cramping.

Oral muscle relaxants do work, and again may be a better treatment for the issues (depending on how bad the symptoms are).

Overall

So in summary, I am not sure whether the topical treatments are the best way forward, as I think that a clearly dosed oral approach may be better. But for sure you need to find the skincare product that encourages you to massage the scar tissue to keep helping it to remodel properly. And a high factor suncream to protect the tissues in the sunshine.

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