An 8-week double-blind, multicenter, parallel study compared the safety and efficacy of topical capsaicin and oral amitriptyline in patients with painful diabetic neuropathy involving the feet. Two hundred thirty-five patients were randomized to treatment with either capsaicin cream or amitriptyline capsules. Capsaicin-treated patients received inactive capsules, and amitriptyline-treated patients applied vehicle cream. A visual analogue scale of pain intensity and measurements of interference by pain with functional activities were recorded at onset and at 2-week intervals. A visual analogue scale of pain relief and physicians' global evaluation assessed changes in pain status from baseline. Topical capsaicin and oral amitriptyline produced equal and statistically significant improvements in pain over the course of the study. By the end of week 8, 76% of patients in each group experienced less pain, with a mean reduction in intensity of more than 40%. By the end of the study, the interference with daily activities by pain had diminished significantly (P = .001) in both groups, including improvements in sleeping and walking. No systemic side effects were observed in patients treated with topical capsaicin. Most patients receiving amitriptyline experienced at least one systemic side effect, ranging from somnolence (46%) to neuromuscular (23%) and cardiovascular (9%) adverse effects. Topically applied capsaicin is an equally effective but considerably safer alternative to amitriptyline for relief of the pain of diabetic neuropathy.