When you walk in to any reputable healthcare store, you will find a myriad of topical creams and ointments designed to reduce inflammation and pain. The wide variety of offerings should help you find the product that best interacts with your injury or ailment, while providing an effective level of pain relief. To choose which product is best for you, it is important to understand how these products work to relieve your pain.
Many cold therapy topical products contain menthol as their active ingredient. Health care professionals have demonstrated the benefits of using cold, topical solutions for pain relief while addressing issues of inflammation. Even though it has long been accepted that cold application can induce numbness, the mechanism of action was not well-understood until recently. Traditional thinking is that the pain-relieving mechanism of menthol results from a counter-irritant effect. This process was first described by Melzack and Wall and is known as “gate control” or “gating.”
Melzack and Wall discovered that a counter-irritant has the effect of overriding pain signals travelling to the brain. The process modulates between pain-transmitting and non-pain-transmitting neurons. Laboratory researchers have also discovered that menthol stimulates the TRPM8 cold receptors. Studies have shown that these specific TRPM8 receptors are activated through the cooling effect of menthol functioning as a topical analgesic. This is what provides pain relief to the user. This also explains why studies have shown that using menthol products like Biofreeze is just as effective as a TENS system for relieving back pain.
Topical products are effective pain relievers. The question every pain suffers asks is, “Will this product work for me?” However, the more important question is, “What active ingredients will relieve my pain?” When choosing a topical pain relief product, it is important to consider the active ingredients. Choosing which ingredients are right for your body is just as important as knowing how those ingredients work.