A pill-free choice for athletes, arthritis sufferers

Published On: Sep 13 2012 02:28:45 PM EDT
Updated On: Sep 27 2012 02:22:18 PM EDT

iStock / KenTannenbaum

(NewsUSA) - Pain relievers commonly taken by athletes for sports-related injuries and by arthritis sufferers can lead to ulcers, other gastrointestinal problems, and kidney and liver damage. These drugs, called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), are available over-the-counter and by prescription.

In recent years, several professional athletes have reportedly been apprehensive about the potentially harmful long-term effects of anti-inflammatory medications and some have even refused to take them.

But others, such as former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Gary Plummer, are choosing topical pain relievers to cope with their pain. Topical analgesics are creams, lotions or sprays that are applied to your skin to help relieve muscle and joint pain, including minor arthritis pain. Their active ingredients can be capsaicin, salicylates or counter-irritants.

Capsaicin blocks the "pain message" from reaching the brain. Salicylates inhibit the hormonelike substances that contribute to pain and inflammation by seeping through the skin. Counter-irritants "fool" the pain by creating a feeling of cold or heat over sore muscles, thus masking the pain.

Plummer, who has had 17 surgeries throughout his NFL career and one hip replacement since his retirement, uses a menthol-based pain relieving ointment when aches and pains hinder his everyday activities.

"I have arthritis in my wrists, in one of my ankles and six of my fingers," Plummer said.

With the help of a topical pain reliever, he said he is now able to do more everyday activities without worrying about pain.

"It's liberating to be able to do things that you basically had taken for granted," Plummer said.

Now he is able to walk longer distances and even coach.

"I'm out there working with kids for almost six hours, five days a week," he said.

Plummer said he often recommends this method to other people, including his wife whose hands often ache after hours of gardening.

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