Four out of five people will suffer from back pain at least once in their lives and it is among the top reasons why people miss work. Treatments for this condition range from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) to potent narcotics. For those who prefer to treat their back pain with topical treatments, patches and gels are available.
The pain patches that require a prescription treat moderate-to-severe or chronic back pains. These patches may contain pain medication such as an NSAID, local anesthetic or narcotic painkiller. In contrast, over-the-counter (OTC) patches provide relief for mild-to-moderate back pain.
OTC pain patches alleviate pain associated with simple backache, arthritis, bursitis, tendonitis, muscle strains, sprains, bruises and cramps by cooling or warming the painful areas. Icy Hot and ThermaCare are popular OTC treatments for mild-to-moderate back pain.
Menthol-containing Icy Hot has a cooling and warming sensation when applied, and larger back patches are available. Due to Icy Hot's far-reaching potent smell, it may not be ideal to use the product immediately before leaving the house.
ThermaCare HeatWraps contain natural heat-generating ingredients to deliver low levels of heat for up to eight hours to relax muscles, alleviate pain and increase circulation. While these patches do not smell, misuse of the product may cause burns. Diabetics and individuals with poor circulation, rheumatoid arthritis or who are pregnant should consult a doctor before using the product.
Certain patches contain high-purity zinc and copper inside a magnetic field. Use of magnets can help promote the body's own healing processes and circulation by stimulating electrically charged substances such as salt ions and the iron-rich hemoglobin found in blood.
Salon Pas (with methyl salicylate and menthol) is an OTC NSAID treatment that offers temporary pain relief. Because of the NSAID component, there is a small chance that it may cause stomach bleeding. In contrast to ThermaCare and Icy Hot, larger Salon Pas back patches are not available.
The Flector patch is a prescription NSAID patch that contains the NSAID diclofenac epolamine. Flector treats acute pain due to minor sprains, contusions and strains and has the same side effect profile as those of other NSAID treatments.
Lidoderm patches contain the local anesthetic lidocaine, which works by blocking nerve signals in the body. The FDA originally approved this medication to treat pain associated with shingles, but health care providers prescribe it for back pain as well. The most common side effect of these patches is an allergic skin reaction.
Sold under the brand name Duragesic, fentanyl patches contain a potent Schedule II opioid painkiller. Duragesic manages persistent moderate-to-severe chronic pain in individuals who require around-the-clock treatment and who have not found relief from combination narcotic or non-narcotic pain treatments.
Direct exposure to Duragesic's fentanyl gel can cause serious adverse events such as respiratory depression and possible overdose, which may be fatal. Continued incidences of death and overdoses with Duragesic and generic fentanyl products led the FDA to issue a second Public Health Advisory in 2007 stating, "The FDA has continued to receive reports of deaths and life-threatening side effects after doctors have inappropriately prescribed the patch or after people incorrectly used it."