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Chinese Herb Patches for Pain

By Dr. Heidi Moawad ; Updated August 14, 2017

Chinese medicine is rapidly becoming mainstream in the United States, and Chinese herb patches for pain are readily available in health stores and online, with a variety of products manufactured both in the U.S. and abroad. The use of pain patches containing standard prescription-strength medications with known effectiveness is well established in Western medicine. Chinese herb patches use the same delivery method as prescription pain patches, but contain Chinese herbs as the active ingredients. The patches are composed of herbs affixed to fabric that adheres to the skin. The combination is formulated to release gradually for effectiveness.

Effectiveness

Chinese herb patches are used or have been tried for a wide range of pain symptoms, including facial pain, nerve pain, arthritis, joint pain, bone pain, muscle pain and cancer pain. Small experimental trials conducted at a number of different institutions around the world have preliminarily shown that these patches might offer some improvement of pain symptoms when used alone or in combination with other medication, but results to date have been mixed.

Different Types of Patches

The herbs contained in Chinese pain patches are traditionally believed to alleviate pain. Common ingredients include capsicum, ginger, myrrh, menthol and a mixture of natural plant herbs. Heating or cooling of the herb patch is sometimes recommended as a companion approach for pain relief. Generally, cold helps with pain associated with redness or swelling, while heat is more useful for soreness resulting from muscle aches.

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Safety

Chinese herbal medicine is categorized as complementary and alternative medicine. Thus, herbs are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration with the same strict criteria as prescription and over-the-counter medications. A prescription is not required to obtain Chinese herb patches, and there is no formal authentication process or method to confirm ingredients, confirm concentration or rule out contamination. Talking to your doctor before starting use is essential, as is knowledge about safety if you are considering the use of this therapy. Chinese herb patches have been used for centuries, and modern scientific studies have confirmed that Chinese herb patches for pain are safe and generally well tolerated, with very infrequent mild side effects, including a skin rash at the location of the patch.

How to Use Herb Patches

Use the patch as directed on the package. Leave the patch on for only as long as recommended on the package, and you can replace it with another patch as needed. Include the herb patches on your list of medications whenever you give your medical history to your doctor or pharmacist, especially if you're also taking another remedy. Even though they're generally safe, Chinese herbs may interact with other treatments. If you develop any irritation of the skin, remove the patch and clean the area. If symptoms are severe or persist for longer than 1 to 2 days, contact your doctor.

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