Oral analgesics are commonly prescribed for the treatment of acute and chronic pain, but these agents often produce adverse systemic effects, which sometimes are severe. Topical analgesics offer the potential to provide the same analgesic relief provided by oral analgesics but with minimal adverse systemic effects. This article describes the results of a systematic review of the efficacy of topical analgesics in the management of acute and chronic pain conditions. A literature search of MEDLINE/PubMed was conducted using the keywords topical analgesic AND chronic pain OR acute pain OR neuropathic pain and focused only on individual clinical trials published in English-language journals. The search identified 92 articles, of which 65 were eligible for inclusion in the review. The most commonly studied topical analgesics were nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (n=27), followed by lidocaine (n=9), capsaicin (n=6), amitriptyline (n=5), glyceryl trinitrate (n=3), opioids (n=2), menthol (n=2), pimecrolimus (n=2), and phenytoin (n=2). The most common indications were acute soft tissue injuries (n=18), followed by neuropathic pain (n=17), experimental pain (n=6), osteoarthritis and other chronic joint-related conditions (n=5), skin or leg ulcers (n=5), and chronic knee pain (n=2). Strong evidence was identified for the use of topical diclofenac and topical ibuprofen in the treatment of acute soft tissue injuries or chronic joint-related conditions, such as osteoarthritis. Evidence also supports the use of topical lidocaine in the treatment of postherpetic neuralgia and diabetic neuropathy. Currently, limited evidence is available to support the use of other topical analgesics in acute and chronic pain.
Copyright © 2013 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.