Post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) is a common and often intractable neuropathic pain syndrome predominantly affecting the elderly. Topical local anesthetics have shown promise in both uncontrolled and controlled studies. Thirty-five subjects with established PHN affecting the torso or extremities completed a four-session, random order, double-blind, vehicle-controlled study of the analgesic effects of topically applied 5% lidocaine in the form of a non-woven polyethylene adhesive patch. All subjects had allodynia on examination. Up to 3 patches, covering a maximum of 420 cm2, were applied to cover the area of greatest pain as fully as possible. Lidocaine containing patches were applied in two of the four 12-h-long sessions, in one session vehicle patches were applied, and one session was a no-treatment observation session. Lidocaine containing patches significantly reduced pain intensity at all time points 30 min to 12 h compared to no-treatment observation, and at all time points 4--12 h compared to vehicle patches. Lidocaine patches were superior to both no-treatment observation and vehicle patches in averaged category pain relief scores. The highest blood lidocaine level measured was 0.1 micrograms/ml, indicating minimal systemic absorption of lidocaine. Patch application was without systemic side effect and well tolerated when applied on allodynic skin for 12 h. This study demonstrates that topical 5% lidocaine in patch form is easy to use and relieves post-herpetic neuralgia.