FREE Standard shipping on orders >$89* (T&Cs apply). Order before 2pm Mon-Fri for same day dispatch

What You Should Know about Pain Relief Creams

What You Should Know about Pain Relief Creams

, by AussiePharmaDirect, 9 min reading time

Pain, in its many forms, can be a formidable adversary, stemming from various causes. Whether it arises after a strenuous workout, as a result of the natural ageing process, or due to health conditions like sciatica and arthritis, pain can truly put a damper on our well-being, and overall lifestyle. You can even forget about doing something as simple as house chores. While the allure of skipping house chores for a day or two for a relaxing day in for yourself seems like a blissful escape, the idea loses its appeal when you’re dealing with muscle soreness or joint pain and stiffness all over the body. 

When it comes to managing pain, a variety of treatments and options are available to cater to different needs and preferences, ranging from oral medications to topical treatments, heat and cold therapy, physical therapy, injections, and complementary therapies. Pain relief creams have become popular go-to options for many individuals seeking relief from various types of discomfort. These creams, also known as topical analgesics, offer a localised approach to pain management, targeting specific areas of the body. 

We often reach for these creams in hopes of finding relief from aches and pains, but do we truly understand how they work, and what benefits they provide? We’ll explore the topic in this blog.

What types of conditions can I use pain relief creams for?

Here are some common conditions where pain relief creams may be beneficial:

  • Minor muscle injuries such as sprains or strains
  • Ease joint pain, stiffness, and swelling associated with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Tendonitis (inflammation or irritation of a tendon, often caused by repetitive movements or overuse)
  • Bursitis (occurs when the fluid-filled sacs (bursae) that cushion joints become inflamed 
  • Neck or back pain
  • Sports injuries such as bruises, contusions, or minor ligament sprains
  • Nerve-related pain

How do pain relief creams work?

Pain relief creams primarily target acute musculoskeletal pain, which refers to temporary pain caused by injuries, strains, or overexertion of muscles and joints. They are not typically intended for chronic pain conditions. These creams work by providing temporary relief, reducing inflammation, numbing the area, or distracting from the underlying pain.

The pain-relieving cream is absorbed into the underlying tissues when applied to the skin. The active ingredients in the cream, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, counterirritants like menthol or camphor, or substances that interfere with pain signals like capsaicin, interact with the nerves and receptors in the area of application. 

Pain relief cream is one thing but there is also another form for topical application such as the pain relief gel. Creams and gels have similar mechanisms of action, with the main difference being the consistency of the product. Creams are typically a blend of water and oil, while gels have a jelly-like consistency. Both forms allow for easy application and absorption into the skin.

What are the active ingredients in pain-relieving creams, and how does each work?

Now, active ingredients, in the context of medications, skincare products, or other formulations in that of pain relief creams, refer to substances that have a pharmacological or therapeutic effect. Usually, these ingredients (whether they are derived or sourced synthetically or naturally) are responsible for producing the desired physiological or biochemical response in the body or on the skin. 

Whether they are creams for back pain or arthritis cream, they all commonly contain various active ingredients that work together to provide comprehensive relief.

  1. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Common ingredients: Ibuprofen, aspirin, diclofenac, naproxen

How they work: NSAIDs work by inhibiting the production of certain enzymes called cyclooxygenases (COX) that are involved in the production of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are chemicals that contribute to pain, inflammation, and swelling. By reducing the levels of prostaglandins, NSAIDs help relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and improve mobility.

  1. Steroid-based ingredients

Common ingredients: Hydrocortisone, prednisone

How they work: Steroids are anti-inflammatory substances that mimic the effects of hormones naturally produced by the body. When applied topically, steroid-based ingredients can help reduce inflammation, itching, and redness by suppressing the immune response and decreasing the release of inflammatory mediators.

  1. Counterirritants

Common ingredients: Menthol, camphor, methyl salicylate

How they work: Counterirritants work by creating a cooling or warming sensation on the skin. When applied, they stimulate the sensory nerve endings, which helps distract from the underlying pain. Additionally, counterirritants can improve blood flow to the area, providing a soothing effect and reducing muscle stiffness.

  1. Capsaicin

Common ingredients: Capsaicin (derived from chilli peppers)

How it works: Capsaicin works by depleting or interfering with the transmission of substance P, a neurotransmitter involved in the transmission of pain signals. By reducing substance P levels, capsaicin can help temporarily reduce pain perception in the applied area. 

  1. Plant or animal sources

Common ingredients: Emu oil, arnica, lavender oil

How they work: Plant or animal-derived ingredients can offer additional pain-relieving properties. For example, emu oil may have anti-inflammatory effects, arnica may help reduce pain and swelling, and lavender oil may provide a calming and soothing sensation. The exact mechanisms of action for these ingredients may vary and can include anti-inflammatory, analgesic, or relaxant properties.

How to maximise the effectiveness of pain relief creams?

Sometimes a simple massage can work wonders on those body aches and add an extra touch of relaxation and effectiveness to the application of pain relief creams. Massaging the muscle creams into the skin helps improve its absorption, allowing the active ingredients to penetrate deeper into the tissues while promoting increased blood flow to the area being treated with each stroke and kneading. 

But it doesn’t just stop there. As you apply gentle pressure and work your fingers or palms in soothing circular motions, you're sending a signal to those tense muscles that it's time to let go of their grip. It's like giving them a gentle reminder to loosen up and embrace a state of relaxation, improving muscle flexibility. 

And let’s not forget about how body massage can actually induce relaxation and reduce stress levels. When combined with the application of the muscle pain cream, the experience can be even more soothing and calming, promoting a sense of well-being and overall pain relief!

What is a good pain relief cream?

Before using a pain relief cream, it is important to have an understanding of your specific health condition or the nature of your muscle pain. This knowledge will help you determine whether a particular pain relief cream will be suitable and effective for your needs. Each pain relief cream is formulated to target specific types of pain or conditions, and using the right cream can make a significant difference in your pain management.

In Australia, pain relief creams are widely available, both in physical stores and online. There are several popular brands and products that offer targeted relief for various types of pain. 

The table below shows a break down of the different types of pain relief creams to summarise the ingredients, how they work and the brands associated with each type, including the potential side effects.


Examples of ingredients

Mechanism of action on pain

Potential side effects




Reduce inflammation

Skin thinning, irritation, discoloration

Cortizone-10, Dermarest


Ibuprofen, Naproxen

Block pain signals

Skin irritation, allergic reactions

Aspercreme, Bengay, Icy Hot


Menthol, Camphor

Distract from pain

Skin irritation, burning sensation

Deep Heat, Tiger Balm, Biofreeze


Lidocaine, Capsaicin

Numb nerves or desensitise

Skin irritation, redness, allergic reactions

Lidoderm, Zostrix, Salonpas


Arnica, Eucalyptus oil, Emu oil

Soothe or provide mild relief

Skin irritation, allergic reactions

Sombra, Traumeel, Soodox


Pain relief creams can serve as effective solutions for managing pain, however, it is important to note that these creams are not intended to treat or heal underlying conditions but rather to provide temporary relief and complement other treatments. They can be used as part of a comprehensive pain management approach.

© 2024 Aussie Pharma Direct, Powered by Aussie Pharma Direct

    • American Express
    • Apple Pay
    • Google Pay
    • Mastercard
    • PayPal
    • Shop Pay
    • Union Pay
    • Visa


    Forgot your password?

    Don't have an account yet?
    Create account