July 10, 2009

Study says heat gels, sprays, unproven

Over-the-counter sport creams and heat gels are unproven and may do no more than rubbing your skin with saliva, a British biochemist said.

The point is, you go to any pharmacy and find tons of these things, but they don't work, Andrew Moore, a biochemist at the University of Oxford, said. I wouldn't waste the money. You might as well rub your skin with a bit of spit.

Moore's team reviewed studies of rub-on and spray-on preparations containing one or more salicylates. Aspirin, for example, is a salicylate. Well-known brands such as Aspercreme, Ben Gay and Icy Hot balms contain salicylates and often menthol additives.

The preparations are thought to work by producing a warmth -- and strong smell -- that distracts users from their musculoskeletal pain but does nothing to heal the injury, Moore said in the current issue of the Cochrane Library, which evaluates healthcare research.

Rather than use salicylate preparations, Moore suggests topical anesthetics containing capsaicin, a hot-pepper derivative which is effective for some strains, sprains and neuropathic pain.