Are there any topical creams that I can use to decrease my face and jaw pain?
A patient recently came to the office with a cream rub that she had been rubbing into her jaw and facial muscles. Although the cream smelled terrible, she thought it was helping. The question is then, do these creams work?
According to research performed on over-the-counter TOPICAL PAIN RELIEF products, creams designed to relieve muscle pain are generally safe, can provide short-term benefit but do not provide long-term relief. The reason these products have only limited usefulness is likely related to the fact that they do not penetrate deeply enough into the muscles.
The most common types of creams contain these basic ingredients:
• Menthol (a counter-irritant)
• Salicylates (aspirin)
• Capsaicin (a pain reliever found in hot pepper)
Menthol: Common products such as Flexall 454, Icy Hot, and Biofreeze contain menthol, wintergreen, or eucalyptus oil that makes the skin feel hot or cold and provides a distraction from the pain. Patients who come into my office tell me these products either provide temporary relief, or do not help at all. Generally these counter-irritant products are rubbed into the jaw muscles 3-4 times a day. When using these products on the face, care must be exercised to avoid contact with the eyes or lips.
Salicylates: The common ingredient found in aspirin, Salicylates are most effective when taken orally. Research indicates that the effectiveness of salicylates decreases to a significant degree when used as a topical cream. Bengay, Aspercreme, and Sportscreme contain this ingredient and are commonly used by my patients.
Capsaicin: A compound found in chili peppers, capsaicin causes a hot, burning sensation when applied to the skin. This topical rub actually depletes a chemical in nerve cells responsible for sending pain signals to the brain. Common products that use this compound are Capzasin, and Zostrix. These products, however, can be risky when applied to the face, as they can cause intense burning and irritation should they get in the eyes, or on the lips.
As expected, some patients swear by these products despite what the research reports. In my opinion there is likely some placebo effect taking place to account for at least 1/3 of the pain relief experienced by patients using these rubs. Additionally, the physical act of rubbing and massaging the facial muscles when applying these products can also provide relief by increasing blood circulation to the area.
In summary, self-help actions can go a long way toward reducing face and jaw pain. Despite poor scientific evidence, these creams can provide some degree of benefit and are recommended as part of an overall self care plan.