Topical analgesics applied locally to skin or to specialized compartments modify pain by actions on sensory nerve endings and/or adjacent cellular elements. With this approach, there are low systemic drug levels, good tolerability and few drug interactions, and combination with oral formulations is feasible. The goal of this review is to provide an overview of the potential for topical analgesics to contribute to improved management of neuropathic pain. Mechanistic and preclinical studies indicate much potential for development of novel topical analgesics for neuropathic pain. In humans, two topical analgesics are approved for use in post-herpetic neuralgia (lidocaine 5% medicated plaster, capsaicin 8% patch), and there is evidence for efficacy in other neuropathic pain conditions. Comparative trials indicate similar efficacy between topical and oral analgesics. Not all individuals respond to topical analgesics, and there is interest in determining factors (patient factors, sensory characteristics) which might predict responsiveness to topical analgesics. There is a growing number of controlled trials and case reports of investigational agents (vasodilators, glutamate receptor antagonists, α2-adrenoreceptor agonists, antidepressants, centrally acting drugs), including combinations of several agents, indicating these produce pain relief in neuropathic pain. There is interest in compounding topical analgesics for neuropathic pain, but several challenges remain for this approach. Topical analgesics have the potential to be a valuable additional approach for the management of neuropathic pain.
© 2013 European Pain Federation - EFIC®