Back Pain Relief Cream and Other OTC Topical Treatments

Written by Hala Ramadan, BS Pharm, RPh, MS

Back pain is one of the most common conditions that people struggle with on a global basis.  It can happen for many reasons. Poor posture or more serious conditions--such as a herniated disk -can cause you discomfort. 

If you are looking for immediate relief, back pain topical treatments might be a great option for you. They come in many forms, such as gels, creams, ointments, balms, drops, or patches.

Topical treatments are absorbed through the skin. To treat the painful area specifically,  there are a variety of choices. Topical pain relief treatments usually work in one of these ways:

1. By distracting you from pain.

2. By blocking pain signals from reaching the brain.

3. By numbing the area.

4. Reducing inflammation or swelling.

Topical solutions have also been demonstrated to be associated with fewer side effects (specifically gastrointestinal reactions) than other pain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS.

Here are some of our favorite ingredients found in back pain creams based on their effectiveness.

Back pain relief topical treatments approved by experts:

  • Lidocaine

  • Methyl Salicylate

  • Capsaicin

  • Camphor 

  • Menthol

Find out which ones are right for your back pain by taking our personalized assessment:


Products containing lidocaine target deep, neuropathic pain.

How it works:

Lidocaine is a local anesthetic. This means that it provides pain relief to the area where it’s applied. Lidocaine actually blocks pain signals from the nerves. 

 Even though it may not always be recognized, studies have found that nerve pain (neuropathic pain) may be a large part of the pain in long-term (chronic) low back pain. Thus, lidocaine, by blocking the pain signals from nerves, may help to lessen the pain.

How to use lidocaine:

  1. Apply a thin layer to the desired area every six to eight hours. 

  2. Do not use the cream more than three times in 24 hours.

  3. Do not apply products with lidocaine to any open wounds, damaged, very dry, blistered, compromised skin.

  4. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, ask a doctor before using products with lidocaine.


Methyl Salicylate 

Methyl Salicylate is made of wintergreen oil. 

How it works:

Methyl salicylates work in two ways. First, it may relieve pain by dilating the blood vessels in the skin, which provides an alleviating sensation of warmth. Second, they irritate nerve endings in such a way that is thought to alter or distort feelings of pain. 

Menthol is a substance found in mint plants. It may provide pain relief when used in topical products. Menthol opens blood vessels where applied. This increases blood flow and helps with healing. Menthol also provides a cooling effect which may soothe muscles, nerves, and joints.

How to use it:

  1. Make sure your skin is clean and dry before you apply any type of salicylate.

  2. Apply a thin layer to the affected area and rub it in until it is absorbed.

  3. You can use salicylate topicals up to four times a day or as instructed by the product packaging.

  4. Stop using the product immediately and seek medical attention if there is any severe burning, irritation, or blistering.

  5. Do not cover the affected area with a bandage or heat wrap as doing so may increase any side effects and sensitivity to the product.

  6. Avoid contact with face and eyes. Wash hands immediately after using this product.

  7. Avoid applying salicylate topical medications before or after bathing.



Capsaicin is the active ingredient found in chili peppers that gives them their spice. You might not know that it has an awesome medicinal use, too.

How it works:

Products containing capsaicin are used to treat many different painful conditions, especially those involving nerve pain. Although the mechanism is not fully understood, studies have shown that capsaicin may be effective in reducing back pain by depleting a chemical that signals pain to the brain.

How to use it:

1. Open pouch to activate the warming patch.

2. Remove protective film.

3. Apply the patch to the pain site, the adhesive (sticky) side towards the skin. 

4. You can also place the adhesive side towards clothing if you have sensitive skin.

5. For best results, apply to clean, intact, dry skin free of oils or lotions.

6. Do not use it if you are allergic to chili peppers.

7. Discontinue use if there are any other adverse skin reactions after application. Wash hands before and after use. Do not touch your face or eyes.



Derived from the wood of the camphor laurel tree, camphor is an herbal and botanical product found in balms, creams, and gels. It is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat pain and itching.

How it works:

According to a 2015 report, camphor may create a pain-relieving (analgesic) effect by activating and desensitizing specific pain receptors when applied to the skin.

How to use it:

  1. Clean and dry the desired area.

  2. Apply a dime-sized amount to the area of pain, but no more than three to four times a day.

  3. Seek medical attention right away if you have signs of a severe allergic reaction after using camphor, such as severe burning, irritation, or itching.

How Goodpath Can Help

Topical solutions such as creams, salves, patches, and drops can serve as great alternatives to oral pain medication.

You can get quicker results, fewer GI side effects and fewer drug interactions if you’re taking other medications. 

Here at Goodpath, we can help find a solution to your pain. Our medical team recommends products backed by science and tested for effectiveness included in our plans. 

We understand that what may work for one person may not work for another. That’s why we build personalized plans to fit each person’s needs. Take our quiz today to see yours.