Most people are used to taking pain relievers in the form of pills, but pills, especially prescription pain pills, can lead to addictions. Topical compounds for chronic pain cannot cause internal addictions, so they are better for you. For anyone who has never tried topical solutions for pain, here is a little more information on the different types and how they work.
Analgesics work similarly to nerve blockers. They temporarily arrest the signals from nerves in the areas where you experience pain when you rub analgesic topicals into and on the skin. The medication is transferred into the first few layers of skin and flesh, where the nerves are. Examples of topical forms of analgesics include acetaminophen and NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
Local anesthetics are topicals or injectables that numb an area. Most anesthetics are prescribed, since they have to be mixed very carefully and the effects have to be monitored by a doctor. A topical anesthetic also has to be applied with gloved hands or you will numb your hands and fingers too. Typically, any drug that ends in -caine is a topical anesthetic.
Transdermal Nerve Blockers
Nerve blockers are pain relievers applied to a very specific area of your body, namely, your spine. If you are experiencing a lot of pain below your lumbar vertebrae, for example, your doctor can prescribe a patch topical that is applied to a specific spot either on the lumbar vertebrae or just below them. The medication sinks through the skin via transdermal transference, and directly into the spinal nerves. Once these nerves are "blocked," you will not feel any pain in your body below the patch. Unfortunately, it also means that you will have limited mobility because you cannot feel your legs or feet move either.
TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulators)
This is the newest OTC topical approach to chronic pain. A small, battery-operated device has up to four electrode patches that adhere to the skin. The device sends electrical signals to the patches and electrodes via wires. The electrical signals disrupt the nerve signals, thereby disrupting the body's ability to register pain in that area. It generally alleviates pain long enough to get in a good workout or to help you feel comfortable enough to fall asleep. Additionally, people who do not like dealing with creams and ointments because of the mess can use a TENS system to cleanly alleviate their pain.