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Reduce Pain and Inflammation with Natural Topical Analgesics

Seeking relief from pain is a common problem, making topical pain relief solutions a popular department in pharmacies and health food stores. Also known as topical analgesics, these versatile products are designed to be rubbed into, sprayed, or rolled onto the skin to provide rapid relief. A range of effective natural and pharmaceutical products are available with a wide variety of ingredients, but how they work and their effects on your health can vary. I’ve chosen to highlight here just a few of the natural ingredients and formulas shown to help lower inflammation and relieve arthritis pain.

Like some of the most prescribed pain medications taken orally (including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), some topical pharmaceuticals (which can include steroids) are associated with a host of adverse reactions including liver and kidney disease, gastrointestinal problems, and in some cases, dependency. The potential risks of these serious side effects lead many to seek more natural alternatives.

Healing Cream on Knee

Available as creams, gels, lotions, sprays, and liquids, natural topical analgesics act locally, avoiding the potential adverse effects of pharmaceuticals. Applied  to the skin, they can be effective at rapidly reducing pain and safely accelerating the healing process. In contrast, pharmaceutical drugs (and natural products) taken orally must be processed by the digestive system and then traverse through thousands of kilometres of blood vessels to the site of the pain.

Joint Pain

Heating and cooling therapies are often recommended for relieving joint pain, especially if the pain is related to muscle or joint damage. a topical relief products can help relieve chronic or acute pain caused by arthritis or injury. Normally, cold is used for the first 48 hours, which reduces inflammation by decreasing the flow of blood to the injured area. Heat is later applied to promote circulation, which helps relieve chronic pain and relax tense muscles.

Many natural hot and cold formulas include camphor and/or menthol which provide a cooling effect, and salicylates (as methyl salicylate - related to aspirin) which provide a warming sensation. Known as counterirritants, the combination of menthol, camphor, and methyl salicylate produces a heating and cooling effect which can help reduce pain. Products that use this approach include formulas from Medistik and Kalaya. A deep-penetrating strong pain reliever, Medistik is used by professional athletes and is also suitable for leg and foot cramps.

Other natural herbal analgesic ingredients that can amplify or complement the pain-relieving benefits of menthol, camphor, and methyl salicylate include arnica, Boswellia, devil's claw, comfrey (allantoin), willow bark, capsaicin, MSM, and lidocaine.

CB2 Receptor Activation

Cannanda CB2 Salve

A physician-formulated, award-winning terpene blend, CB2 products offer a legal, non-prescription alternative to cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is the popular compound sourced from cannabis that has significant health benefits, but lacks the intoxicating effects of THC. The essential oil compounds in this terpene blend similarly deliver a number of incredible health benefits by activating the CB2 cannabinoid receptors of the endocannabinoid system (the body's master regulator of homeostasis). Backed by studies on pain and inflammation, CB2 is available in Cannanda’s topical CB2 Salve, aromatherapy terpene blends, and as a nutritional supplement in their terpene-infused hemp seed oil.

Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA)

A naturally occurring compound derived from egg yolk, palm, peanuts, or soybean lecithin, studies have found that topical PEA is effective at treating nerve pain (including sciatica), inflammatory pain, and pain from endometriosis and interstitial cystitis. Similar to the compounds in CB2 products, PEA works by stimulating the endocannabinoid system; it influences central control mechanisms within our cells to resolve factors that lead to cellular stress and inflammation. Demonstrated in over 600 scientific investigations and over 20 double-blind human clinical trials, PEA is available both as a lotion and as a supplement, with complementary benefits.

Essential Oils

Many essential oils and herbs are natural analgesics including rosemary, ginger, clove, turmeric, frankincense, myrrh, peppermint, lavender, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and eucalyptus. 

Wonder Oil

A legendary topical oil manufactured since 1923, Wonder Oil is a simple and effective topical analgesic formula combining clove oil (warming, with anesthetic properties) with menthol (cooling).

Arnica Montana

A European flowering plant in the sunflower family, arnica is a powerful natural analgesic and anti-inflammatory. Many naturopaths use arnica as their primary topical solution for treating arthritis, joint pain, muscle strains, and sprains. I recommend arnica preparations that contain a tincture of at least 50%; one study found it to be equivalent to a 5% ibuprofen gel for treating osteoarthritis of the hand. Combining magnesium with arnica and various essential oils, Epsomgel is effective for pain relief (including sciatica) and for relieving muscle cramps. Absolut Arnica by the Swiss company A. Vogel is another excellent arnica product that is effective for relieving muscle and joint pain.

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)

An organic sulfur compound with analgesic properties shown to be helpful both orally and topically, MSM is an important ingredient in many topical analgesics and is especially suitable for treating osteoarthritis of the knee.


Dimethyl sulfoxide is an organosulfur compound that is in some ways similar to MSM, but with unique skin penetration properties. Used for medicinal purposes for over 50 years, DMSO is available as a gel and a liquid. Discovered by Dr. Stanley Jacobs at the Oregon Health and Science University Medical School team, it was found that DMSO could penetrate the skin without causing damage, and could also be used to carry other compounds into the body.

Applying DMSO to the skin can help lower inflammation, reduce pain, ease osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, and improve joint movement. Adverse effects may include dry skin, headache, and itching. Some people may also notice a garlic-like taste, breath, and body odor.


The ingredient in peppers that makes them spicy hot, capsaicin is very effective when used in topical pain-relieving formulas. Capsaicin and also lidocaine are especially well-suited for the treatment of nerve pain, including shingles (herpes zoster) and notalgia paresthetica.

Black Seed Oil

Also called Nigella sativa oil, BSO is one of the most important health-promoting, anti-inflammatory supplements, especially effective for the treatment of allergic rhinitis. One recent study found that topical BSO was better than acetaminophen for reducing knee pain in elderly patients.

TPR20 Cream


One of the most interesting topical products with a wide range of uses, TPR20’s formula contains many powerful ingredients including devil's claw, MSM, evening primrose oil, Boswellia, allantoin, sodium hyaluronate, green tea extract, vitamin C, vitamin A, and lidocaine hydrochloride. Every ingredient has supporting research that demonstrates benefits for the skin, facilitation of healing, and pain reduction. Short for Topical Pain Relief, TPR20 was developed in 2012 by Trans Research Labs of Winnipeg and is used by physiotherapists, doctors, sports clinics, and chiropractors.

While the formula includes a variety of herbal anti-inflammatory ingredients, the key constituents are menthol and lidocaine. Menthol provides a cooling effect that helps to reduce pain (a local anesthetic) and works to bring blood to the area. Safely used by dentists since 1949, lidocaine is absorbed directly into the site and source of the pain, resulting in rapid relief. A multipurpose product, TPR20 can be used to reduce or stop itching (including from shingles and hives), help lessen joint pain, ease muscle soreness, and control nerve pain (neuropathy). TPR20 can also be effective for heel spurs, fibromyalgia, gout, and to relax painful muscle cramps. In some stubborn cases, two or three dime-sized applications may be required. In addition to relief of joint, arthritis, and muscle pain, TPR20 is also great for treating a variety of other skin conditions including insect bites, bee stings, minor burns, and reactions to plants like poison ivy and poison oak.

Natural topical analgesics can provide safe, fast, and effective relief of arthritis, muscle, and joint pain, and should be in everyone's natural medicine toolkit.

Health Disclaimer. Copyright ©2019-2021. First published April 2019, last major revision in August 2021. Nathan Zassman is a trained nutrition practitioner and the owner of Aviva Natural Health Solutions.

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Targeting CB2 receptors and the endocannabinoid system for the treatment of pain (Brain Res Rev. 2009 Apr; 60(1): 255-266.)

The central cannabinoid receptor type-2 (CB2) and chronic pain. (Int J Neurosci. 2017 Sep;127(9):812-823.)

Palmitoylethanolamide in the treatment of chronic pain caused by different etiopathogenesis. Pain Med 13: 1121-1130. (2012)

Choosing between NSAID and arnica for topical treatment of hand osteoarthritis in a randomised, double-blind study. Rheumatol Int . 2007 Apr;27(6):585-91.

Effect of Topical Application of Nigella Sativa Oil and Oral Acetaminophen on Pain in Elderly with Knee Osteoarthritis: A Crossover Clinical Trial. Electron Physician. 2016 Nov; 8(11): 3193–3197. PMID: 28344755