Neck pain is an exceedingly common problem that most people will experience at some point in their lives. From poor posture to injuries and medical conditions, there are many potential causes of neck soreness and stiffness. When conventional treatments like over-the-counter pain medication, ice, or gentle stretches fail to provide relief, some people turn to topical creams like Deep Heat for additional symptom management. But is Deep Heat actually effective for neck pain?
What is Deep Heat?
Deep Heat is the brand name for a type of cream, gel, or spray that produces a warming sensation when applied to the skin. The active ingredients are local anesthetics, counterirritants, and vasodilators. Common active ingredients in Deep Heat products include methyl salicylate, capsicum oleoresin, turpentine oil, and eucalyptus oil. The combination of ingredients works to temporarily distract from pain signals, relax muscles, and promote blood flow. Deep Heat is available over-the-counter and is frequently used to treat sore muscles and joints associated with back pain, arthritis pain, strains, and sprains.
How Might Deep Heat Help With Neck Pain?
When applied to the skin over sore neck muscles, Deep Heat’s warming and numbing effects could temporarily minimize feelings of pain coming from the strained tissues. The increased blood circulating to the area may also bring healing nutrients and oxygen. Additionally, the distraction provided by new sensations from Deep Heat may briefly override pain signals. Relaxing tense neck muscles could also lightweight discomfort by removing pressure on nerve endings.
While these effects may not treat the underlying cause of pain, some find it provides partial short-term relief for neck discomfort. This may allow people to stretch and move the neck more easily so they can participate in physical therapy exercises. The pain relief may also simply make the pain easier to tolerate for a period of time.
Does Research Demonstrate Deep Heat’s Effectiveness for Neck Pain?
There has not been much research done specifically analyzing how effective Deep Heat is for neck pain. However, a few studies have indicated some muscle rubs may have modest benefits.
One study compared a cream containing glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, and camphor to a placebo cream for chronic knee and spinal pain. They found evidence that the treatment cream resulted in a small reduction in spinal pain symptoms compared to placebo, though it was not a statistically significant effect.
An older study from 1995 evaluated a capsaicin cream used by people with chronic neck pain. They reported the capsaicin cream yielded a slightly more substantial reduction in pain compared to placebo. However, the sample size was very small.
Finally, another small study found that applying a menthol-based gel was linked to lowered scores on a sciatica pain scale compared to placebo gel among patients with chronic back pain and sciatica symptoms.
So while research data is certainly limited, there is some early evidence that creams inducing sensations like heat or cold may offer minor neck pain relief for some people when used alongside other treatments under medical guidance. Much larger high-quality clinical trials are still needed though.
Are There Any Risks Associated with Using Deep Heat for Neck Pain?
Deep Heat is unlikely to lead to major safety issues when used exactly as recommended by the manufacturer and for short durations. However, there are some warnings to consider before applying it to the neck.
First, some people may experience skin irritation, redness, stinging, or an allergic reaction to an ingredient. Capsaicin in particular can commonly cause burning, stinging, itching, and redness that persists for a few days after use. People with skin sensitivities may wish to do a patch test before use or consider alternative analgesics like ice packs or over-the-counter pain creams.
It is also essential to avoid applying Deep Heat to open wounds, damaged skin, or mucus membranes. Used on sensitive skin prone to blistering or thinning like the elderly, it can increase chances of burns. And getting the product too close to the eyes and mouth should be prevented.
Using too frequently, excessively, or on large skin areas can also raise absorption leading to potential side effects like dizziness, racing heart rate, headaches, and nausea. Consult a pharmacist or doctor before using alongside other creams or ointments which may interact. Discontinue use if any worrying reactions occur. Proper dosage and application instructions should not be exceeded, as overuse is more likely to aggravate skin and nerves rather than helping pain.
Lastly, Deep Heat will not treat underlying structural issues, muscle strains, or chronic inflammatory conditions causing neck pain. Relying solely on sensation-altering creams distracts from addressing pathological causes. Topical analgesics should be combined with primary treatments like physical therapy, ergonomic corrections, pain medications, trigger point injections, massage, and possibly surgery.
Deep Heat may provide very modest, temporary relief from neck pain for some patients thanks to its distraction, heating, and muscle relaxant properties. However, current research has not firmly established its effectiveness, ideal dosage, and safety profile specifically for neck pain. Potential skin sensitivity and lack of long-term solution for pain causes means it should not replace primary medical treatments. Patients wanting to try Deep Heat should first consult their doctor on usage guidelines and monitor for any adverse effects. When incorporated responsibly alongside physiotherapy, postural correction, pain medications, and stretching, Deep Heat muscle rubs may have a minor supportive pain relief role for those seeking an integrative approach to treating neck aches and soreness.