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Saturday, January 01, 2000

Pain Tool: Drug Store Pain Patches - Reviews and How-To's

THIS POST IN IN PROGRESS, but since i am taking so long to complete it, I thought you might enjoy perusing it now! I will add to it as I get more experience with the patches, so you may call this a perpetual post.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, ask your doctor before using these, read the packaging carefully, and be an informed consumer. I have fibro and may be more sensitive to these patches, and I am not allergic to any of the products I have tested (well not much). This is simply a post on my findings. Also, remember that as you age, your skin gets thinner and therefore is more susceptible to burns and irritation from these patches. A more careful testing period is recommended, but more recommended is that you talk to your doctor. For heating patches, it is recommended that you wear them OVER cloth or clothes in order to minimize possible burns.

Finally, after a month of testing and documenting, I have an article that I am sure can help sufferers of fibro and fibro-like pain. Pain patches, if you're not allergic to them, should and must be part of your pain-relieving toolkit. I will talk about the rest of the toolkit as I find the tools, but this article is all about pain patches and how they can help YOU!
I have severe pain from Fibro, and if my pain is under 7/10, these patches works wonders. If I have a pain level of 6, it'll bring it down to a 5 or 4/10 through distraction of nerves, as well as the mind. As the nerves feel a strong sensation other than pain (be it menthol or capsacin, etcetera), they focus their attention on the "louder" pain, so as long as your pain isn't intense.. this is a good plan. Some of them also have the added bonus of aromatherapy, or increasing circulation, but enough intro - here's the data I collected. I'm no scientist, so don't laugh at my lack of professionalism here, friends. ;)

Product Name: Rub A535 Dual Action Patch
Type: Menthol-type
Application: Big patches, best to cut them down to a smaller size, otherwise it's hard to keep it from sticking to itself.
Stickiness: 5/10
Can you unstick and restick the product? Not well.
Comfort of Patch: Good, but very "gooey" - which might be off-putting to some users.
Sensation: At first it's cool and wet, then it gets warmer and warmer. The amount of warmth may disturb some users around more sensitive spots (neck for example). Unlike some patches, I always knew it was there, the distraction level from my pain was well worth the extra price you pay with this.
Pain Relief: The sensations are distracting, and if you use the patch properly, this distracting action will trick the brain into feeling less pain.
Time Active: 2.5 - 3.5 hours.
Smell: Menthol (minty)
Best Area to Apply Patch: Back.
Overall thoughts: I like this patch, it can last over three hours and works quite well. The only thing I would say that would be a problem here is if you're allergic (read package before purchase) or if you don't like the "gooey" feeling at first.. It's a little bit more expensive, but the patches are bigger, so if you cut it down, it's a good price as the lesser priced ones are usually smaller and work for less time.

Product Name: Tiger Balm Patch
Type: Menthol, Camphor, demontholised mind oil, eucalyptus oil, and capsacin (bonus marks on the packaging for having the ingredients!!)
Application: VERY sticky, if you get it on your fingers and fingernails, you need to work hard to get it off (as you do NOT want to get any of these pain patches' stuff in your eyes!!!). Good size, and otherwise application is simple if you're paying attention. This is not a patch that you can put on while you're multitasking.
Stickiness: Not bad at all 7/10.
Can you unstick and restick the product? Yes, twice or even three times.
Comfort of Patch: Good, feels nice, doesn't hurt. Breathes well.
Sensation: cold, and then much later it gets warm. On sensitive places it may hurt, as there is capsacin!! It may also leave a red mark under the patch. But, as I will post in future about capsacin: the more you use it, the less it hurts and the more it kills pain. But that doesn't mean you should cover yourself in it and go in shock, silly. Use in moderation, a little tiny bit at a time. You may want to cut capsacin patches in little tiny squares at first, and apply them to your lower back (unless it is already irritated, burned, etc, then you're asking for extreme pain and you need help ;).
Pain Relief: Good distraction from pain. Intense cool is refreshing and calming.
Time Active: 3 hours.
Smell: Strong smell, but the aromatherapy benefits of this product aren't lost on me! It's a calming smell, as well as it gives mental clarity (which fibro people and cfs people need due to exhausted mind), and positivity. Oh, and minty smells curb hunger, which is also good since a good percentage of those with FMS and CFS have overeating disorders connected to pain and mental symptoms (more on that in the future).
Best Area to Apply Patch: Anywhere! If the smell bothers you, you might want to stick the patch below the breastline. Also VERY good for carpal tunnel pain - put it on under your wrist brace(s) and it really stops mid-level pain.
Overall thoughts: Good price, good product. Fair and if you like the smell - wonderful! I like that the package has information, as many of the others didn't have the info for me.

Product Name: Deep Heating Patch
Type: Methyl Salicylate
Application: Easy.
Stickiness: Good, best out of all that I tested. 9/10.
Can you unstick and restick the product? Yes.
Comfort of Patch: *Do not apply to very sensitive areas, as this does have quite a punch to it* - if applied to not-so-sensitive areas (neck fibro points), it's amazingly comfortable. It's VERY bendy.
Sensation: Cold, then VERY warm to hot. If it's on a sensitive place, it might burn and prickle, and leave a bit of a red patch.. so test it!!
Pain Relief: Very good at distracting from pain. Thumbs up.
Time Active: 2-3 hours, however I've just noticed that the pack says no more than 2 hours and no more than twice daily! Let my mistake be a lesson: read the packaging thrice and not just twice ;)
Smell: Strong menthol smell, but I find that nice.
Best Area to Apply Patch: Lower back - it's heavenly there.
Overall thoughts: This patch also earns an A. Why? Well if you use it properly, and test it before you commit to spending a couple of hours with it out of doors (where you can't readily take it off) - you'll love it. What sets this patch apart? Well the intensity of the heat combined with the fact that you can cut it into shape (unlike some other patches I will talk about later) AND it sticks really well. Good combo over all. But again, I warn you: test all patches before going out and being unable to strip it off if it starts to burn.

Product Name: ThermaCare Heatwraps
Type: Heat cells with activated charcoal, iron powder, sodium chloride, sodium thiosulfate and water. (Actually produces heat.)
Application: Very easy.
Stickiness: Excellent.
Can you unstick and restick the product? I have re-stuck this product over 3 times and it still held.
Comfort of Patch: Very comfortable if used properly.
Sensation: Heat is generated by the ingredients reacting with air when product is unwrapped. It produces a lot of heat, like a real heating pad, but without the troubles of a wire/plug, or having to reheat it (like the Magic Bag). Very nice, increases circulation, relaxes muscles. This is great during menstrual cramps! Very cool.
Pain Relief: Great for muscle cramps, especially back muscles and abdominal muscles.
Time Active: 8 hours.
Smell: No smell.
Best Area to Apply Patch: Comes in different formats for different body parts (ie back, neck, arm) - all spots are good. However, it gets VERY hot and if you're sensitive, this can hurt. Sensitive places like the neck may get burned, so follow the directions carefully on the package, including the nice insert that comes in each box. I like it on the lower back, between shoulders, and on lower abdomen during menstrual cramps.
Overall thoughts: I love this patch!! It's called a wrap, ok, but I had to include it into this experiment, as I was curious from the commercials . This is an excellent patch and if you can use it - it's a great tool for easing lactic acid buildup that fibrofolks get so easily during workouts. It's a great tool for any woman during her period. It's a great tool for anyone who gets sore muscles. It isn't great for overall fibro electric pain, but great for muscle relaxation - and anyone with any disability, who gets frustrated by the disability or easily gets muscle strains needs to try this patch - of course read the package and consult your doctor!! One note, during one of the tests, I have asthma, my lungs got bothered after using this patch.. but not during all tests. *Update note March 7th: I have had similar irritation to my eyes after having the patch on my neck. I recommend that if this happens to you, remove the patch completely, or transfer it to a body part further from the face. I recommend thighs, calves, lower or mid back.
Update again, in March: more breathing and eye problems when wearing these patches. Keep in mind, I'm a very "allergic" person ;)

Product Name: Icy Hot Patch

Type: Menthol, and a list of other non-med ingredients listed at bottom back of package.
Application: I'm not sure if they have smaller patches, but this pack has HUGE patches that must be cut down. Cut BEFORE you remove the plastic layer!, otherwise you'll have a heck of a time.
Stickiness: Good.
Can you unstick and restick the product? Yes, I've re-stuck this product three times (with each I did at least three re-sticks) and it passed with acceptable limitations. That is, clean the areas you want it to stick to, as with all patches, and make sure there is no moisturizer or other product underneath.
Comfort of Patch: Great. Very bendy.
Sensation: Cold and hot at the same time. Comfortable. Less "gooey" than other patches.
Pain Relief: Great at distracting from mild to moderate pain.
Time Active: Unknown - between 3-6 hours. It depends on what area you apply it to. You will notice it more on the neck for longer, but will stop noticing it on the back after 3 hours. This is great on the wrists, neck, ankles, knees, and upper back - as it is longer than some patches.
Smell: Strong menthol. The "yummiest" menthol smell of the ones I tried, however. ;)
Best Area to Apply Patch: Mentioned under "time active".
Overall thoughts: Good patch. I like it, and I like the fact that it lists all ingredients on its package, for those of us who have strange allergies. I love the smell, it's a very fresh candy-mint smell. It's also very cutable, for areas that require tailored patches (fingers, thumb, upper neck, etc) -and great for making small patches to cover a larger area. (I will talk more about this Dispersal Technique later on in this article.

Product Name: Absorbine Jr. Pain Relieving Patch
Type: Camphor, eucalyptus, menthol.
Application: Easy, good.
Stickiness: Good.
Can you unstick and restick the product? Yes, and the residue from where it was stuck before will continue to deliver pain relief / distraction.
Comfort of Patch: Good. The intensity might be a bit much for some, but I find it effective.
Sensation: Very cold (but not actually cold)
Pain Relief: Good, distraction level is higher than some.
Time Active: Recommended 1-2 hours, but can remain effective longer than that on sensitive areas like the neck.
Smell: Earthy mint smell.
Best Area to Apply Patch: Neck, back.
Overall thoughts: This is noticeably more acute in its cold sensation than other patches, which can be good if you need a good distraction from your pain. It has good stickability and so can be transferred from one place to another if you want, a few times.

Product Name: Deep Cold Pain Patch
Type: "Natural Menthol 4.26%" - (Icy Hot had 5%)
Application: Easy. Points for directing people to cut patches. I like good suggestions and directions.
Stickiness: 6/10
Can you unstick and restick the product? Yes, I would say twice, and thrice it loses adhesive ability.
Comfort of Patch: Good, bendy. But has a "gooey" feel at first, like A535.
Sensation: Cool. Comfortable, gentle.
Pain Relief: Good distraction, like many other patches.
Time Active: Suggested 1-2 hours, however CAN last longer.
Smell: Minty smell, soft.
Best Area to Apply Patch: Neck, back.
Overall thoughts: I like this patch. Whatever other ingredients sets this off from other patches, the difference is slowly noticeable. The effects start off subtly and build up gently.

Product Name: Tensor Heat Therapy
Type: Ingredients react to air, like ThermaCare - it actually creates heat - as illustrated with a heat-vision photo graph montage on the packaging.
Application: Great, easy.
Stickiness: 6/10
Can you unstick and restick the product? Yes, but after the second time it unsticks easily. I use sticky tape to restick it after that.
Comfort of Patch: Good! After a few hours the skin underneath builds up some sweat, so people who don't like that may find it uncomfortable. Unlike the ThermaCare, this breathes less easily (causing that sweating). I LOVE this patch, it feel comfortable to me.
Sensation: Like a sunbeam is hitting that part of your body on which the patch is stuck.
Pain Relief: Great for menstrual cramps, muscles aches, lactic buildup in muscles, strains, tension, etc. A great tool for relaxing muscles and bringing circulation to the affected area.
Time Active: 10 hours!!!!
Smell: None
Best Area to Apply Patch: Back, abdomen, neck - etc,
Overall thoughts: I absolutely love this patch. It's a great tool to relax muscles and increase circulation to the affected area. I have my irregular hell period right now and it's really helping with cramping.

Uses of Pain Patches: How to Add this Tool to your Pain Relieving Arsenal!

I) Precautions
  1. First, make sure you're not allergic to the patches.
  2. Next, make sure it doesn't interact with any topical medication you're using (or ingested otherwise).
  3. Test the product on your arm for a short time, then a longer time, and frequently check for burns or other reactions.
  4. Read the packaging twice or thrice - better safer than sorry.
II) Different Tools for Different Jobs - Don't use a wrench when you need to use a saw.

There are different reasons to use these patches:
  1. Distraction from Pain
    • This will mostly work on mild to moderate pain. During a 7/10+ pain attack, it may not do much of anything.
    • It's not a substitute for pain meds your doctor prescribes, but can be used WITH the pain medication.
    • Be an informed consumer, be wise, listen to your doctor, your brain, and your gut. If you don't like the product, there are other products that can help you.
    • Also, make sure you're not allergic to the product, because then you'll have a negative pain distraction!
    • Try out different patches for yourself. Everyone is different, and what distracts me - may highlight someone else's pain. You may react differently.
  2. Increasing Circulation and Heat
    • Cold muscles can add dramatically to fibro pain and other pain disorders - so these warming (ThermaCare and Tensor) patches will help this. Use on cold days, or on cold places (as people with circulation disorders can have cold body parts regardless of Summer/Winter temperatures), and it will heat up the part for 8-10 hours!
    • I have found that the extra circulation helps with the healing process on strained muscles. People with impaired healing (due to lack of proper sleep, immune system dysfunction, etc) might find that their muscles heal a bit faster, and with less fuss. I certainly was impressed, although don't expect miracles, friends, stay realistic!
    • Menthol based patches might FEEL hot, but I doubt they actually get hot. Or if they do, it's probably due to the patch trapping body heat in? Anyways, the air-activated ingredients in the ThermaCare and Tensor patches actually generate heat. I hate to repeat, but I want to get the point across. THEY ARE AWESOME!
  3. Relaxing Tension
    • With pain disorders, and any disability really, frustration commonly breeds without proper outlet, and muscles tense up. We all have our bad spots: tense shoulders, achey lower back from tension postures, neck pain, etc. Heating patches and even the menthol-based patches can aid in relaxation of these muscles. Either heating the muscles, aromatherapy, distracting soothing menthol patch sensation, etc, these things will all lower tension in the body, mind, and soul.
III) Odd findings
During my study, (remember, I have fibro and other issues that may be responsible for these findings) I used menthol-based patches on my legs at times, and each time it made my legs hurt more. The pain I used them for was the nervous restless fibro pain, like withdrawal pain. I'm not sure what this means but I will look into it.

IV) Finding the Right Spot
I suggest drawing a map of your body (even if it's a simple stick figure) and test out which spots are helped by patches, and which places to avoid - and mark it down on that "map". Of course you must use common sense. Never put any of these patches on mucus membranes, sexual organs and areas, etc!! Otherwise you're in for an ouch, my friends. It would be useless for me to give you my map, as all bodies are individual when it comes to sensitive spots and numb spots - due to fatty deposits, muscular places, places that have been operated on, burnt, etc. I suffered a bad burn when I was in my teens, and there's NO WAY you should put a patch on irritated, burned, or previously badly burned skin.

V) Carrying a "Distraction" in your Mobile Toolkit
What do I mean by tool kit? Well, I'll let you in on my toolkit so far. With me, where ever I go, I take pill-form meds with me, as well as hand sanitizer (I have a compromised immune system so I err on the side of caution) small cut or folded menthol-based pain patches in a locking plastic bag, a small portion of pain cream (more on pain cream in a future post), a bottle of water with A very small amount of salt in it (dehydration adds to mental fatigue and physical fatigue), a cracker pack (in case I need to take a pill that requires food in the stomach, and so forth. I will post about the toolkit later, but what it is basically is a kit you can take with you that will help you in the case of emergency - but also it can help you go out more often. How? Well sometimes when I'm out and having a pain attack, I have to come back home asap. That can waste time, money, and make one very frustrated, as you may have paid to get to that place (taxi, bus), you might not get out a lot (if you're like me you get out a few times a month at best), and it's nice being out with people and sights to see. A change of vista. The problem with this is that it must be as light as possible, as anyone with pain, weakness, etc - really can't carry a ten pound bag and have a good time.
So that's the great part of pain patches: they are light, compact, bendy (except for some heat patches), and discreet. They fit in the toolkit with ease, and can be applied a the bathroom stall, or in public if it's not hard to get to with dignity.

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