Topical and Transdermal Therapies for Pain

By February 23, 2016February 22nd, 2019About Pain, Educational

Finding ways to treat chronic pain outside of the routinely prescribed drugs in capsule and tablet form can be challenging for sufferers of daily chronic pain. While these treatment methods can be effective and work well for some patients, knowing other options can sometimes be helpful, lead to more awareness of alternatives and potentially help improve a current treatment plan.

Chronic pain affects more than 25% of adults in the United States with oral prescription drugs often being the main form of treatment. However, since 1979 when the first available prescription patch was approved by the United States Food and Drug administration, there have been many advances in alternative methods of treating chronic pain. Topical and transdermal therapies represent useful substitutes for oral pain management drugs, which can have limitations. Topical therapies are administered directly to the skin over the painful area and deliver the drug to the target site. They have a local topical effect and create only peripheral tissue activity; they don’t affect the entire body just the site of administration. Transdermal therapies contain active ingredients that are delivered through the skin. These products do have systemic activity meaning they affect the body as a whole.

Topical and transdermal therapies come in several forms – gels, sprays, emulsions and creams. Most transdermal products on the market today in the United States are in patch form. A transdermal patch is a medicated adhesive patch that is placed on the skin and delivers a medication through the skin and into the bloodstream. Taking the medicine in tablet or capsule form can lead to the medication getting watered down by stomach acids before they enter the bloodstream. By administering the medicine directly to the site of pain or injury and bypassing the stomach, more of the drug goes directly to the bloodstream.

Topical and transdermal therapies offer alternatives to oral drug delivery and have multiple benefits for the patient. By administering drugs to the skin, some of the negative effects of oral drugs can be avoided such as drowsiness and upset stomach. This is particularly useful for athletes or anyone who has an active lifestyle, needs to be alert for work or a busy parent who needs to keep up with their children. Keeping the mind clear and the stomach stable can help a person remain fully engaged in their daily activities and not feel like they need to adjust their schedule based on their medical treatment. Topical and transdermal therapies also have a big convenience factor as they can be self-administered by the patient and are pain-free. This allows a pain treatment to fit into a person’s lifestyle rather than dictate their daily schedule that revolves around treatment times. These therapies also lead to fewer fluctuations in drug levels as having a constant drug concentration removes the ups and downs associated with oral dosing. All these factors can make topical and transdermal therapies more appealing and increase patient compliance, as they are less likely to experience disruptions in daily life and will maintain a more constant state of relief.

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