Capsaicin for Osteoarthritis

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Topic Overview

Capsaicin (Zostrix), available without a prescription, is a pain reliever that comes in a cream that you apply directly to your skin (topical analgesic). It has been found to relieve joint pain from osteoarthritis in some people when rubbed into the skin over affected joints.footnote 1 To be beneficial, the cream must be applied 3 or 4 times a day. And the effects may not be seen for several weeks.

The main ingredient in capsaicin is an extract from hot peppers. It appears to have no serious side effects. But some people may be allergic to capsaicin. The first time you use this topical cream, apply it to just a small area of skin to make sure there is no allergic reaction. Even people who are not allergic may notice a burning sensation. Some people may not be able to tolerate the discomfort associated with using capsaicin.

Related Information



  1. De Silva V, et al. (2011). Evidence for the efficacy of complimentary and alternative medicines in the management of osteoarthritis: A systematic review. Rheumatology, 50(5): 911–920.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerStanford M. Shoor, MD - Rheumatology

Current as ofAugust 21, 2015