Curbing Arthritis Pain with Capsaicin?

man with osteoarthritis pain
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Capsaicin is a natural substance said to aid in the treatment of arthritis. Applied topically (i.e., directly to the skin) or delivered through a transdermal patch, it's sourced from the fruit of cayenne peppers. It's thought that creams, ointments, gels, and transdermal patches containing capsaicin can help manage arthritis by alleviating pain.

Related: Herbs for Pain Relief

Why Is Capsaicin Sometimes Used For Arthritis?

Research suggests that applying capsaicin to bodily tissues may help to stimulate the release of a chemical called substance P.

Typically released when your tissues are damaged by injury, substance P triggers a burning, painful sensation. When capsaicin is applied regularly to a specific area of the body, however, substance P becomes depleted in that area. As a result of this depletion, a reduction in pain (such as arthritis pain) is thought to occur.

The Science Behind Capsaicin and Arthritis

Several studies suggest that capsaicin may help relieve the pain associated with osteoarthritis (the most common form of arthritis). Although research on the use of capsaicin among people with rheumatoid arthritis is limited, there's some evidence that capsaicin may help treat this type of arthritis as well.

The most recent research on capsaicin's effectiveness for relief of osteoarthritis pain includes a report published in the journal Progress in Drug Research in 2014. For the report, investigators examined five previously published clinical trials that tested the use of capsaicin among patients with osteoarthritis of the knee, hand, or a combination of joints.

Their analysis determined that topical use of capsaicin is moderately effective in reducing the intensity of osteoarthritis pain.

The available evidence for capsaicin's potential benefits in relief of rheumatoid arthritis pain includes a study published in Clinical Therapeutics in 1991. The study involved 70 patients with osteoarthritis and 31 patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

For four weeks, each study participant was treated with either capsaicin cream or a placebo.

At the end of this study's treatment period, those given the capsaicin cream reported a significantly greater reduction in pain (compared to those given the placebo). Another key study finding: osteoarthritis patients showed an average pain reduction of 57 percent, while rheumatoid arthritis demonstrated an average pain reduction of 33 percent.

Caveats

Use of topically applied products containing capsaicin may trigger a number of side effects, such as burning, irritation, or a rash. Capsaicin should not be applied to broken skin or near the eyes or mucous membranes.

Because arthritis may lead to a number of complications when left untreated, self-treating with capsaicin and avoiding or delaying physician-prescribed care is not recommended. Osteoarthritis, for example, may cause impairment of physical functioning when left unchecked, while rheumatoid arthritis is associated with complications such as osteoporosis, lung disease, and atherosclerosis.

Alternatives to Capsaicin for Natural Relief of Arthritis

Some research suggests that natural remedies like avocado/soybean unsaponifiables, glucosamine, and chondroitin sulfate (as well as alternative therapies like acupuncture) may help alleviate osteoarthritis pain.

Although research on the use of alternative medicine among people with rheumatoid arthritis is fairly limited, there's some evidence that increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids and use of herbs like boswellia and devil's claw may be helpful to people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Since arthritis is closely linked to chronic inflammation, following an anti-inflammatory diet may be helpful for arthritis control as well.

Using Capsaicin for Arthritis

It's possible that including topical capsaicin in your arthritis management plan may offer some pain-relieving benefits. It should be noted that it may take one to four weeks of topical capsaicin use for pain relief to occur.

For optimal relief of osteoarthritis symptoms, a number of lifestyle practices are essential. These practices include regular exercise (such as swimming or walking), as well as management of chronic stress (a factor thought to aggravate arthritis pain).

If you're considering the use of capsaicin in treatment of arthritis, consult your doctor for help in incorporating this product into a self-care plan that best suits your individual health needs.

Sources

Deal CL1, Schnitzer TJ, Lipstein E, Seibold JR, Stevens RM, Levy MD, Albert D, Renold F. "Treatment of arthritis with topical capsaicin: a double-blind trial." Clin Ther. 1991 May-Jun;13(3):383-95.

Kalff KM1, El Mouedden M, van Egmond J, Veening J, Joosten L, Scheffer GJ, Meert T, Vissers K. "Pre-treatment with capsaicin in a rat osteoarthritis model reduces the symptoms of pain and bone damage induced by monosodium iodoacetate." Eur J Pharmacol. 2010 Sep 1;641(2-3):108-13.

Kosuwon W1, Sirichatiwapee W, Wisanuyotin T, Jeeravipoolvarn P, Laupattarakasem W. "Efficacy of symptomatic control of knee osteoarthritis with 0.0125% of capsaicin versus placebo." J Med Assoc Thai. 2010 Oct;93(10):1188-95.

Laslett LL, Jones G. "Capsaicin for osteoarthritis pain." Prog Drug Res. 2014;68:277-91.

McCleane G1. "The analgesic efficacy of topical capsaicin is enhanced by glyceryl trinitrate in painful osteoarthritis: a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled study." Eur J Pain. 2000;4(4):355-60.

McKay L1, Gemmell H, Jacobson B, Hayes B. "Effect of a topical herbal cream on the pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis: a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial." J Clin Rheumatol. 2003 Jun;9(3):164-9.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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