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Does capsaicin help osteoarthritis?

Capsaicin (Capzasin-P, Zostrix, Icy Hot PM) can be helpful for relieving pain from arthritis. Capsaicin (pronounced cap-SAY-a-sin) is what causes hot peppers to light your mouth on fire. It has been incorporated into certain creams, gels or lotions to reduce osteoarthritis pain. We don’t suggest putting it in your next batch of chili, though. Instead, rub it into the skin above your aching joint several times a day. It will deplete your cells of the “ouch!” signal they usually send to your brain, so you don’t feel the pain.

You may need to use capsaicin for one to two weeks before you feel pain relief from it, but it can be a great alternative to standard pain relievers since it has fewer side effects. Before applying, check for irritated or broken skin. You don’t want to apply capsaicin on those areas. When you apply capsaicin the first few times, you may feel a burning or itching. This usually goes away after the first few days, but if it has you feeling like your joint is on fire, just wash it off with soap and warm water.

Capsaicin (Capsazin P, Zostrix, Icy Hot PM) can help relieve arthritis pain, according to the Arthritis Foundation. It seems to be most effective against hand pain. Capsaicin is made from hot peppers and contains the same ingredient that makes the peppers taste hot in your mouth. When made into a cream, gel or ointment that can be applied to the skin, capsaicin stimulates the release of substance P, a natural chemical in the body that appears to keep pain signals from reaching the spinal cord.

Capsaicin is usually applied up to four times a day. You may need to use it for a week or more before you feel pain relief. When you apply capsaicin the first few times, you may feel a burning or itching. This usually goes away after the first few days. Do not use capsaicin on irritated or broken skin and be careful not to get any into your eyes. After applying capsaicin, wash your hands right away.

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Capsaicin is sold over the counter; you do not need a prescription for it. The cream works best if it is used on the painful joint three to four times a day, every day. The pain-blocking effect may take a week or more to be felt. If you decide to try capsaicin to relieve osteoarthritis pain, tell your doctor. Do not use capsaicin on skin that is broken or irritated. Don't get capsaicin into your eyes or mouth, and wash your hands right away after you apply it.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.