Some like it hot; some like it cold. While crèmes, lotions, gels and oils have their obvious place in massage therapy, supplementing treatment with topical solutions can be a pain relief game changer patients are looking for. If used correctly, the cooling sensation of topical analgesics and the heat of a warming analgesic are easy additions to any practice. Today, we’re breaking down the use of topical analgesics and offering proper use guidelines to make sure both you and your patients have a pleasant experience.

Why topical analgesics work in massage therapy

Topical analgesics like Biofreeze are used as a temporary relief from minor aches and pains. With key ingredients like menthol, topical analgesics work via the Gate Control Theory of Pain; menthol acts to stimulate specific sensory receptors in the skin, blocking other receptors from sending pain signals to the brain.

Also known as “cold therapy,” topical analgesics have multiple benefits in massage therapy:

  • Active cooling targets area to relieve pain
  • Cooling and re-warming of tissue stimulates return of blood flow
  • Topical analgesics are often a better option for cold therapy due to the disadvantages of the application of ice on tissues such as:
    • Stiffness, decreased range of motion
    • Temporary pain and numbness
    • Decreased motor performance
    • Prolonged vasoconstriction
    • Skin irritation
    • Risk of frostbite and nerve injury
  • Provides pain-free movement
  • Can be used by client at home or by therapist when providing target therapy

When to use topical analgesics in massage therapy

Before treatment:

  • Reduce pain prior to manipulation of tissue
  • Ease pre-treatment apprehension

During treatment:

  • If client has soreness or pain during the treatment session

After treatment:

  • For minor pain and tenderness relief
  • Give client pain relief hours after massage session

Cryotherapy is a knockout in the massage therapy field, but there’s another side to consider. Next month, we’ll cover the proper protocol to using warming topicals in massage therapy. Subscribe to our blog and/or follow us on social media so you don’t miss the article!

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