What is an External Analgesic?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 17 June 2019
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An external analgesic is a medication for pain management designed to be applied externally, rather than being taken internally. External analgesics are applied to skin that has not been broken and can be used in a variety of ways. Some are available over the counter from drugstores and pharmacies. Others are provided by prescription only and may be used in a hospital setting or prescribed for patients with unique pain management needs for use at home.

This type of analgesic works by numbing signals sent from nerves in the vicinity of the area where the medication is applied. Depending on the product, the area numbed can vary, and the length the medication remains effective is also variable. Topical pain relief can be applied in situations where people experience aches and pains from arthritis and similar health problems. It can also be used in minor medical procedures so the patient will not experience pain during the procedure.

Local anesthetics work slightly differently, and are designed to be injected into the area, rather than being applied topically. They are intended for internal use, tend to last longer, and must be administered by an experienced care provider. An external analgesic is easy to apply and is mild enough to come with minimal risks and side effects. People sometimes find these medications helpful for managing pain near the surface of the body or for addressing pain directly at the source.


These medications are available in the form of gels, creams, and sprays. After application, it can take a few seconds or minutes for the medication to take effect. Periodic reapplications can be used to maintain the numbing as patients start to experience breakthrough pain. The area can be left exposed after application, or covered with clothing or a bandage, depending on the location and the needs of the patient. Some patients with pain find contact with the site unpleasant, even with an external analgesic, and may prefer to leave the area uncovered.

Patients should be advised that when they use an external analgesic, the pain signals normally sent out when the skin is cut, burned, or otherwise damaged will not occur. There is a risk of severe injury as the patient may not realize that an ongoing injury is occurring. Nerves also adjust to analgesics over time and the intensity and frequency of the dosing may need to be increased as a result.


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Post 3

@everetra - I can relate to your dentist story. Let me tell you, however, that in my experience, even the pain medication didn’t help me. I had several large cavity fillings-a near root canal-and the pain was excruciating, even with the topical anesthetic.

I sought for pain relief in the days that followed, and I found it in acetaminophen. I had read that if I dissolved the tablets in my teeth that they would kill the pain. This provided some relief but proved too cumbersome, so finally I just swallowed the tablets whole. The pain was gone.

Of course, I had to keep doing this, sometimes several times a day. Perhaps I took more than I should have but it did the trick until my gum pain receded naturally on its own.

You can use ibuprofen, too. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen accomplish the same things in terms of pain relief, but acetaminophen doesn’t treat inflammation.

Post 2

After excessive workouts my muscles sometimes feel strained and I go for the analgesic cream. I love the feeling of hot, penetrating muscle pain relief. However, sometimes this stuff is a little too potent. One of the most well-known products is BenGay.

BenGay side effects can include intense redness and swelling of skin, and even pimples, if the cream is applied in heavy doses and if you rub it in for too long.

There really is such a thing as too much of a good thing, so I recommend that if you use this product or any other analgesic cream that you read the directions carefully, apply in moderation, and stop immediately if you start developing rashes or any other side effects.

Post 1

According to this external analgesic definition, I would assume that the stuff they give me when I go to the dentist would be considered a local analgesic.

This is because it’s not on the skin like an external analgesic and because, for all intents and purposes, it is in fact local. They only numb part of my mouth, the area where they’re going to do the work.

The thing I dislike about all this localized numbing is that when they’re done I feel I can only move half my face when talking, which makes for a very comical gesture and a general feeling of awkwardness overall.

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