Anti-Inflammatory Creams: What They Are And How They Work

If you suffer from pain and inflammation in your muscles or joints, you may have considered using anti-inflammatory creams to get some relief.

Most anti-inflammatory creams and gels contain medication such as ibuprofen to effectively relieve the pain, but some contain just natural ingredients.

These natural ingredients may include herbs, oils, or extracts that have anti-inflammatory properties, such as aloe vera, arnica, chamomile, or turmeric.

Some people may prefer natural anti-inflammatory creams and gels because they are less likely to cause side effects, such as skin irritation, allergic reactions, or stomach problems.

But what are anti-inflammatory creams, how do they work, and what are the benefits and risks of using them? Let’s answer these questions… and more.

What Are Anti-Inflammatory Creams?

Anti-inflammatory creams are topical products that contain a medication that reduces inflammation and pain in the area where they are applied.

They are also known as topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) because they belong to the same class of drugs as oral NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin.

Anti-inflammatory creams come in different forms, such as gels, sprays, patches, and foams. They also have different active ingredients, such as:

  • Diclofenac;
  • Ketoprofen;
  • Ibuprofen;
  • Felbinac;
  • Piroxicam;
  • And capsaicin.

Some of these ingredients are available over-the-counter (OTC), while others require a prescription from your doctor.

How Do Anti-Inflammatory Creams Work?

Anti-inflammatory creams work by blocking the production of prostaglandins, which are chemicals that cause inflammation and pain in the body.

Prostaglandins are made by an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX), which has two types: COX-1 and COX-2.

COX-1 is responsible for maintaining the health of the stomach lining and blood clotting, while COX-2 is involved in inflammation and pain.

Most anti-inflammatory creams inhibit both types of COX, but some are more selective for COX-2.

By reducing the amount of prostaglandins in the affected area, anti-inflammatory creams can relieve pain and swelling without affecting the rest of the body as much as oral NSAIDs.

The Benefits Of Using Anti-Inflammatory Creams

Anti-inflammatory creams have several advantages over oral NSAIDs, such as:

  • Target the specific area where you have pain and inflammation, without affecting other parts of your body.
  • Reduce the risk of stomach ulcers, bleeding, and kidney damage that oral NSAIDs can cause.
  • Avoid drug interactions with other medications that you may be taken orally.
  • They can be easier to use and more convenient than oral NSAIDs, especially if you have trouble swallowing pills or liquids.

The Risks Of Using Anti-Inflammatory Creams

Anti-inflammatory creams are generally safe and effective when used as directed by your doctor or pharmacist.

However, they may still cause some side effects or complications, such as:

  • Itching, skin irritation, burning sensation, rash, or redness at the site of application.
  • Swelling, hives, or other allergic reactions, such as difficulty of breathing.
  • Increased blood pressure or heart problems if used for a long time or in large amounts.
  • Worsening of asthma or other breathing problems if you are sensitive to NSAIDs.
  • Eye irritation or damage if the cream gets into your eyes.

To minimize these risks, you should follow these precautions when using anti-inflammatory creams:

  • Read the label carefully and follow the instructions for how much to use, how often to apply, and how long to use it.
  • Wash your hands before and after applying the cream.
  • Avoid contact with your eyes, mouth, nose, genitals, or open wounds.
  • Do not apply the cream on broken or irritated skin or under bandages or heating pads.
  • Do not use more than one type of anti-inflammatory cream at the same time or with oral NSAIDs unless advised by your doctor.
  • Stop using the cream and seek medical attention if you experience any severe or unusual symptoms.

How Long Does It Take For An Anti-Inflammatory Cream To Work?

The time it takes for an anti-inflammatory cream to work depends on the type of cream and the condition being treated.

Some creams may start working within a few hours, while others may take a few days or even weeks to show noticeable effects.

NSAID Creams

Some people may notice the effects of NSAID creams, such as diclofenac or ibuprofen, within the first few hours of taking a dose, while others may not notice the effects for a few days or even up to a week or two after starting the medication.

Pain control tends to occur much quicker than anti-inflammatory effects, such as improvement of swelling.

Capsaicin Creams

Anti-inflammatory creams made from an extract of chili peppers may take up to two weeks to provide pain relief.

They work by depleting a substance called substance P, which is involved in transmitting pain signals to the brain.

Corticosteroid Creams

Corticosteroid creams such as hydrocortisone or betamethasone, typically start working in the first 24 hours. They work by suppressing the immune system and reducing inflammation.

However, they should not be used for more than two weeks without medical supervision, as they can cause skin thinning and other side effects.

In the end, the time it takes for an anti-inflammatory cream to work varies depending on the individual and the product.

It is important to follow the directions on the label or from your doctor or pharmacist and to be patient and consistent with your treatment.

If you do not see any improvement or experience any adverse reactions, you should consult your doctor or pharmacist for advice.

How Often Should I Apply The Cream?

The frequency of applying anti-inflammatory cream depends on the type of cream and the condition being treated. You should always follow the instructions on the label or from your doctor or pharmacist. Here are some general guidelines based on the sources I found:

  • For NSAID creams, such as diclofenac or ibuprofen, you can apply them up to four times a day for up to two weeks, unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
  • For capsaicin creams, which are made from chili peppers, you can apply them three to four times a day for up to eight weeks, unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
  • For corticosteroid creams, such as hydrocortisone or betamethasone, you can apply them once or twice a day for up to two weeks, unless your doctor tells you otherwise. You should not use them for longer than that without medical supervision, as they can cause skin thinning and other side effects.

When applying anti-inflammatory cream, you should:

  • Wash your hands before and after, apply a thin layer to the affected area, and rub it gently until it is absorbed.
  • Avoid contact with your eyes, mouth, nose, genitals, or open wounds.
  • Also, avoid using more than one type of anti-inflammatory cream at the same time or with oral NSAIDs unless advised by your doctor.

If you have any questions or concerns about using anti-inflammatory cream, you should consult your doctor or pharmacist for advice.

Natural Alternatives To Anti-Inflammatory Creams

There are some natural alternatives to anti-inflammatory creams that may help reduce pain and inflammation. However, they may not be as effective or safe as the prescribed or over-the-counter products, so you should always consult your doctor before using them.

Here are some examples of natural anti-inflammatory substances that you may want to try:

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids And Fish Oil

These are essential fats that have anti-inflammatory effects and can help lower the levels of inflammatory chemicals in the body.

They are found in foods like fatty fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, and soybeans. They are also available as supplements in capsules or liquids.

2. Curcumin

This is a compound found in turmeric, a spice used in curry dishes. It has anti-inflammatory properties and can block the production of pro-inflammatory proteins called cytokines.

It may also help with conditions like arthritis, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Curcumin can be used in cooking or taken as a supplement in capsules or powders.

3. Ginger

This is a root that has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. It can inhibit the enzymes that produce prostaglandins, which are chemicals that cause inflammation and pain.

It may also help with conditions like osteoarthritis, menstrual cramps, and nausea.

Ginger can be used in cooking or taken as a supplement in capsules, teas, or extracts.

4. Green Tea

This is a beverage that contains antioxidants called catechins, which have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects.

They can reduce the levels of inflammatory markers and protect the cells from oxidative damage.

Green tea may also help with conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. It can be consumed as a drink or taken as a supplement in capsules or extracts.

5. Capsaicin

This is a substance found in chili peppers that gives them their spicy taste. It has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects by depleting a chemical called substance P, which is involved in transmitting pain signals to the brain.

Capsaicin may also help with conditions like arthritis, neuropathy, and shingles. It can be applied topically as a cream, gel, patch, or spray.

These are some of the natural alternatives to anti-inflammatory creams that you may want to try. However, they may not work for everyone or for every condition.

They may also have side effects or interactions with other medications or supplements that you are taking. Therefore, you should always consult your doctor before using them and follow their advice on dosage and duration of use.

Conclusion

Anti-inflammatory creams are topical products that can help you manage pain and inflammation in your muscles or joints. They work by blocking prostaglandins, which are chemicals that cause inflammation and pain.

They have several benefits over oral NSAIDs, such as a lower risk of stomach problems and drug interactions. However, they may still cause some side effects or complications, such as skin irritation or allergic reactions.

Therefore, you should use them as directed by your doctor or pharmacist and follow the precautions on the label.

If you have any questions or concerns about using anti-inflammatory creams, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. They can help you choose the best product for your condition and advise you on how to use it safely and effectively.

Related Post