Before Using Pain Relief Cream, Check This

Medically Reviewed

Q. Is it safe to use nonprescription pain relief cream for my joints and muscles?

A. Usually, yes, but be sure to check the ingredients on the packaging—or ask your pharmacist for a product that won’t damage your skin.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that some over-the-counter pain relief cream used for joints and muscles can cause serious chemical burns. These products, applied to the skin, contain menthol, methyl salicylate, or capsaicin as the active ingredient. They can provide some temporary pain relief.

The products come as ointments, lotions, creams, gels or patches and cause a cooling or warming sensation when applied. They’re not supposed to cause burning or tingling. The most serious injuries have been second- and third-degree burns, most often caused by products containing menthol, methyl salicylate or a combination of the two.

Though there’s a potential for harm, the actual occurrence is rare. You don’t need to stop using pain relief cream if it works for you. You do need to be aware of any unusual reaction, including any tingling or burning or other sign of damage such as blisters or swelling. If so, stop using the product and seek immediate medical help.

To reduce your risk of injury:

■ Don’t use tight wraps or bandages on the area after applying the medicine.

■ Don’t use heating pads, heat lamps or other sources of added heat.

■ Avoid applying the medicine to damaged skin or to areas close to your eyes or mouth.

■ Don’t use topical analgesics more than three or four times a day.