Do Capsacin sports creams actually work?
February 15, 2012 7:54 AM   Subscribe

Do sports creams with capsacin actually do anything to help healing and repair of inflamed tendons / ligaments or are they merely palliative?

So, on occasion after a long run / long bike ride a few tendons in one or both knees will be a bit inflamed, sore and tender. This is not troubling as they are not stressed to the point of irreparable injury. However, I would (of course) prefer them to heal as soon as possible. I have some sports cream with a huge amount of capsacin in it. Applying it will indeed make the affected area feel hot - as the capsacin irritates the skin and produces, at least in the dermis, locally increased blood flow as the body deals with the inflammation caused by the capsacin.

Does that process - increasing blood flow by irritating the skin - actually provide any benefit to the underling tendons or ligaments?

Most Googling has found articles connected with manufacturers which - surprise! - says these creams make you heal, make you taller, more good looking, etc.
posted by BrooksCooper to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
From my understanding capsacin 'wears out' pain receptors which is why it helps reduce pain. I don't think it actually does anything beyond that.
posted by empath at 8:06 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

pain relief is all they claim and do manage to do
posted by Postroad at 8:11 AM on February 15, 2012

Nope, just pain relief. I like to use them when I have bad DOMS, a cramp, or a spasm since it helps things relax a bit and make it easier to massage. I would imagine using them on inflamed tendons would actually make those worse, if you have inflammation in tendons and ligaments you're better off treating it with ice to get the inflammation to calm down. Bringing heat and blood to the area is good for spasms or cramped muscles, or couple days after you get an acute injuries when you're about to start the repair process. Not so good for tendinitis and already-swollen tissue.
posted by schroedinger at 8:16 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I use Voltaren, which contains Ibuprofen. Sadly, I can't find it anywhere in the US...
posted by The Toad at 8:37 AM on February 15, 2012

The Toad: That's because it isn't ibuprofen, it's diclofenac, which is prescription-only in the US. As an NSAID, it has the same mechanism as ibuprofen, which actually does reduce inflammation.
posted by skyl1n3 at 8:47 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Aspercreme! OK, Sportscreme-but it's the same stuff as aspercreme and more expensive. And odor free. "Aspercreme Cream is a topical salicylate pain reliever. It works by reducing swelling and inflammation in the muscle and joints."
posted by atomicstone at 10:13 AM on February 15, 2012

Alternatively, crush up aspirin, rub on skin, apply DMSO, watch it get absorbed like magic. You gotta watch out for DMSO though, it will absorb the aspirin and everything else that's on your skin. So make sure the area is clean.
posted by schroedinger at 10:17 AM on February 15, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks all - A long distance cyclist friend swears by DMSO to get compounds into the skin. I think I'll try aspirin and DMSO
posted by BrooksCooper at 10:23 AM on February 15, 2012

Capsaicin apparently has a reasonably potent anti-inflammatory effect which is not simply pain relief:
Nontoxic dose of capsaicin inhibited H. pylori-induced IL-8 production by gastric epithelial cells through the modulation of IkappaB-, NF-kappaB-, and IL-8 pathways. We conclude that capsaicin can be proposed as a potential anti-inflammatory drug by inhibition of the production of IL-8 in H. pylori-infected gastric epithelium.
And has in fact been proposed as a "...Natural Alternative to COX Inhibitor Drugs".

Which is precisely why it may not be such a good idea to use it on sore muscles, joints and tendons:
NSAIDs Hamper Ligament and Tendon Healing

The following statement comes from a well-known sports medicine book that has gone through five printings. "In spite of the widespread use of NSAIDs there is no convincing evidence as to
their effectiveness in the treatment of acute soft tissue injuries." (Bruckner, P. Clinical Sports Medicine. New York City, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1995, pp. 105-109.)

This is a true statement, but definitely not strong enough. More appropriate would be something like, --In spite of the widespread use of NSAIDs there is substantial evidence that they hamper soft tissue healing.--

NSAIDs have been shown to delay and hamper the healing in all the soft tissues, including muscles, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. Anti-inflammatories can delay healing and delay it significantly, even in muscles with their tremendous blood supply. In one study on muscle strains, Piroxicam essentially wiped out the entire inflammatory proliferative phase of healing (days 0-4). At day two there were essentially no macrophages (cells that clean up the area) in the area and by day four after the muscle strain, there was very little muscle regeneration compared to the normal healing process. The muscle strength at this time was only about 40 percent of normal.(Greene, J. Cost-conscious prescribing of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for adults with arthritis. Archives of Internal Medicine. 1992; 152:1995-2002.)...
posted by jamjam at 10:55 AM on February 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Aspercreme! OK, Sportscreme-but it's the same stuff as aspercreme and more expensive. And odor free. "Aspercreme Cream is a topical salicylate pain reliever. It works by reducing swelling and inflammation in the muscle and joints."

The jury is still out on that, atomicstone. Wikipedia says one trial has found application increases salicylate levels in the underlying tissues. A JAMA-published experiment found it to be useless. Most other sites are either sponsored by analgesic-cream companies, or amateur sports medicine sites (which are notoriously crank-heavy and often heavily influenced by sponsors).
posted by IAmBroom at 11:38 AM on February 15, 2012

I use Curcumin which has been shown to be a better choice than ibuprofen as a Cox-2 inhibitor.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:51 PM on February 17, 2012

Odd how it will not allow my link when I pulled it from a Google search
posted by P.o.B. at 2:57 PM on February 17, 2012

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