Taking the Pain Out of Painkillers

Taking the Pain Out of Painkillers

Julian Whitaker, MD

A while back, I attended a conference on pain management and end-of-life care, which the state medical board requires all California physicians to take. Am I glad I did! Although I am often critical of mainstream medicine and its obsession with drugs, I’m always on the lookout for therapies, alternative or conventional, that will help my patients.

At this conference, I learned about a novel approach to pain relief that, although it’s a drug and requires a prescription, works like a charm.

Pinpointing the Pain

The problem with drugs that address pain is that—as with any drug you take orally—they affect not only your aching back or throbbing joints but your entire body. And while they may provide relief, they do so at a cost. Prescription narcotics such as Vicodin are addictive.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) increases your risk of liver and kidney damage. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are hard on the GI tract, and many of them harm the cardiovascular system. And COX-2 inhibitors have caused hundreds of thousands of heart attacks and tens of thousands of deaths.

There is a safer and more direct route to relief. When a pain-relieving drug is mixed into a readily absorbed cream and rubbed into the affected area, the active ingredients penetrate the skin and can provide quick and dramatic relief. Equally important, these drugs are not systemically absorbed to any significant degree, and there is little risk of adverse side effects.

A number of drugs can be administered in this form, but the ones we’re using most often at the clinic are ketoprofen, an NSAID, and ketamine, an anesthetic. A compounding pharmacist simply mixes individualized doses and combinations of these or other drugs into a cream or gel, and the patient applies it directly to the affected area (called “topical” application) two to four times a day. The results, as I can tell you from personal experience, are remarkable.

It Works for Connie and Me

My wife, Connie, has been dealing with sciatic pain in her lower back for the past 15 years, since a tow truck plowed into the back of a car she was riding in. She was in a lot of pain for about a year afterward, but it slowly resolved thanks to extensive courses of chiropracticacupuncture, and prolotherapy.

Unfortunately, she had foot surgery a couple of years ago due to a sports injury, and it caused an alteration in her gait that reactivated her sciatic pain. Connie isn’t a complainer, but sitting at her desk, exercising, etc., exacerbated her sciatica, and it was really causing her severe discomfort. Then I started her on topical ketoprofen and ketamine.

Now Connie swears by this treatment. She notices relief within 10 minutes of application, and its effects last four or five hours. She doesn’t use it 24/7, only when she has flare-ups, but it has made a significant difference in her quality of life.

I have my share of nagging aches and pain as well, especially in my lower back when I play golf. I’ve been using the same formula for about a month now, and it definitely makes a difference.

Conventional Drugs Gone Alternative

In addition to sciatica and low backache, many types of pain syndromes—arthritis, bursitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, sprains and strains, and muscle spasms—respond extremely well to topical drugs. This approach is also particularly effective for all types of neuropathic pain, including diabetic, peripheral, post-herpetic, post-surgical, and post-traumatic neuropathy.

The primary downside of these drugs is that your physician is not likely to know about them and even less likely to prescribe them. That’s because rather than being pushed by drug reps or listed in the Physicians’ Desk Reference, topical NSAIDs and analgesics are formulated by compounding pharmacies, which are not on the radar of most conventional doctors. Nevertheless, I believe they are a true breakthrough in pain control.

Popping an NSAID or Tylenol every now and then to relieve an occasional ache or pain is perfectly acceptable. However, high doses and long-term use of pain-relieving drugs have a host of well-documented dangers. If you’re suffering with chronic pain, I strongly urge you to look into these topical drugs.


  • Topical NSAIDs and analgesics require a prescription that can be filled at a compounding pharmacy.
  • To learn about treatment at the Whitaker Wellness Institute, contact a Patient Services Representative at (866) 944-8253, or click here.

Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Copyright 2007. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healingclick here.

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