We all know that you can get quite the endorphin rush from eating hot chili peppers but is it true that capsaicinoids, the spicy compounds in chilis, can help relieve pain? Should you throw out those NSAIDs and start using chilis as band aids for neck pain?
How Capsaicin Works
Capsaicin is the natural spice found in chili peppers and when applied to the skin this causes a brief flurry of sensory activity that is then followed by desensitization of the nerves in the area. This happens because the compound stimulates the transient receptor potential vanilloid-1 (TRPV1) nerve fibers that express pain.
Do Chili Pepper Creams Relieve Pain?
Low doses of capsaicin have not been found to afford any significant benefit for pain relief, but an 8% topical capsaicin gel has proven useful for the treatment of post-herpetic neuralgia and other causes of neuropathy. This has sparked renewed interest in using capsaicin for pain relief in recent years, especially considering how difficult it is to treat neuropathic pain and how many of the available medications have serious side effects.
Benefits of Pain Relief Gels
Topical pain relief medications reduce the risk of side effects and help target the activity of the drug, and liquid capsaicin, resiniferotoxin and other natural capsaicinoid products are now being investigated to treat chronic nerve pain. Typically, neuropathic pain is not significantly relieved by a single treatment approach, necessitating a variety of interventions to improve quality of life.
The Problem with Capsaicin Gels
Low concentration capsaicin gels are available over the counter in many countries, with these containing less than 1% of capsaicin. To offer any real relief, however, these have to be used many times a day for many months, meaning that few people see any benefit as it’s hard to maintain a consistent regime. Higher concentrations, including the development of an 8% capsaicin patch, and a 10% and a 20% capsaicin liquid make single topical applications possible.
Side Effects of Capsaicin Creams
Anyone considering using higher strength capsaicin products for neck pain relief should be aware that these can cause skin blistering, redness, irritation, and other side effects. As such, capsaicin band-aids or high-strength topical applications may not be appropriate for use on areas of skin that are exposed to sunlight, or for those wishing to avoid visible redness. In most cases these should be used by medical professionals only, or under medical supervision, in order to improve the likelihood of relieving neck pain with capsaicin and of minimizing the risk of side effects.