Fibromyalgia Topical Treatments

The treatment of fibromyalgia is complex and different for each individual patient. Your treatment plan likely includes lifestyle recommendations, physical therapy, and oral medications. Many fibromyalgia patients also benefit from using topical medicated creams. The three most frequently used types of cream for fibromyalgia relief are salicylate cream, counterirritant cream, and capsaicin cream. Read on for answers to some common questions about topical creams for fibromyalgia.

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Can topical treatments interact with oral medications?


It's possible. To be safe, check with your doctor about all the medications (topical and oral) that you're taking. If you take aspirin orally, your doctor may recommend that you don't use a topical cream with salicylates.


What are salicylates and how can they help fibromyalgia?


Some topical creams contain salicylates, which are the same active ingredients found in aspirin. While creams with salicylates may not help much with deep fibromyalgia pain, these creams can be helpful for pain that's closer to the skin. Many fibromyalgia sufferers report that salicylate creams bring relief to pain in the fingers, elbows, and knees.


What are counterirritants, and which creams contain them?


Menthol, camphor, and methyl salicylate are counterirritants. Creams that contain one or more of these ingredients cause a cooling, warming, or tingling sensation when applied to the skin. Creams with counterirritants offer a distraction from fibromyalgia pain and may numb shallow nerve pain. These creams won't address any pain that's deeper in the body.


Why is this important?


For many people, fibromyalgia management means using both oral and topical treatments. If your fibromyalgia pain is currently not being managed effectively, ask your doctor about adding a topical treatment.


How much topical treatment should I use?


Whichever topical cream you try, make sure you follow the dosage instructions on the package. Unlike moisturizers, which you can use as liberally as you like, topical pain relief creams contain medication. Follow the dosage instructions as carefully as you would follow the instructions on a bottle of oral medication. For example, an overdose of salicylates can upset your stomach (even when you're receiving the medication through your skin). When starting capsaicin, if you use too much at once you may experience skin burning and irritation. Read the dosage instructions several times, and make sure you follow your doctor's instructions.


Are there safety measures I should take when using capsaicin?


Yes. Have you ever chopped up a hot pepper and then accidentally rubbed your eyes or nose? If so, you know what capsaicin can do to sensitive areas of your skin! When you apply capsaicin cream, wear rubber or latex gloves to protect your hands. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or any other mucous membrane while applying capsaicin cream. It's also important to follow the dosage instructions carefully and apply the cream as directed by your doctor.


What is capsaicin, and is it helpful for fibromyalgia sufferers?


Capsaicin is found in spicy chili peppers, and it is also a useful topical pain reliever. The pain-relieving effects of cream with capsaicin build over time. You'll need to use a capsaicin cream for a couple of weeks before you start to experience the full pain-relieving effect.

Creams with capsaicin may be the most effective for fibromyalgia pain because of the way capsaicin affects the nerves. Capsaicin interferes with a particular peptide (substance P) that's released by the nervous system in response to stimulation. Substance P is responsible for creating pain signals in the brain. Because capsaicin blocks substance P, your body experiences less pain as a result.

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