Do Anti-Inflammatory Gels and Creams Work?

Inflammation is a common part of the body’s healing process. It is a natural response of the body to injury or illness, characterized by redness, swelling, pain, and other symptoms. However, chronic inflammation can cause a range of health problems and should be addressed by medical professionals.

Anti-inflammatory gels and creams are becoming increasingly popular as a way to reduce inflammation and ease its associated symptoms. These creams are commonly used to treat conditions such as arthritis, tendinitis, psoriasis, eczema, and sunburn. Some anti-inflammatory gels and creams are available over the counter, while others require a prescription from a healthcare provider.

But do they actually work? In this blog post, we discuss what an anti-inflammatory gel or cream is, how it works, and for what conditions it is used. We also explore some of the controversy surrounding the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory gels and creams. Once you reach the end, you’ll have a better understanding of whether these products can help you manage your inflammation and improve your health.

How Do Anti-inflammatory Gels and Creams Work and How Effective Are They? 


Anti-inflammatory gels and creams are topical medications that are applied to the skin to reduce inflammation and pain. The active ingredients in these gels and creams work on a local level to reduce inflammation caused by an injury or illness.

They typically contain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as diclofenac, ibuprofen, or naproxen, as well as other ingredients like menthol or capsaicin that provide additional pain relief.  NSAIDs can help relieve pain by blocking the production of certain enzymes that cause inflammation. 

Some of the gels or creams also contain corticosteroids such as hydrocortisone and triamcinolone which reduce inflammation by blocking the production of inflammatory proteins. Others contain Lidocaine which provides numbing relief from pain associated with inflammation. 

The effectiveness of anti-inflammatory gels and creams depends on the specific active ingredient or combination of active ingredients used in the product in question. They should be applied directly to the affected area three or four times a day for best results. These products may take a few days to become fully effective but should start providing relief almost immediately upon application. 

According to most studies conducted on topical anti-inflammatory treatments, these gels and creams are moderately effective in providing relief from inflammatory symptoms. Results can vary from person to person, depending on the severity of their condition and the concentration of the active ingredient in the product. But most people report some level of improvement after using these medications.

We have rounded up the evidence showing how effective these products are for certain inflammatory conditions. 

  • Arthritis: topical anti-inflammatory treatments have proven to be effective in reducing pain related to osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Several studies concluded that diclofenac gels are effective in improving function and relieving pain in patients suffering from knee and hand osteoarthritis. Another research reported that ibuprofen and levomenthol gel can reduce both pain and stiffness related to knee osteoarthritis. 
  • Tendinitis: These medications have also been shown to be effective in inflammation associated with tendinitis. According to a study conducted on people with lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), diclofenac gel is more effective in relieving symptoms than any placebo gel. 
  • Psoriasis: These creams and gels are also quite effective in reducing the severity of psoriasis symptoms. A study reports that a 1% indomethacin gel can significantly reduce the redness, scaling, and inflammation in people with psoriasis.
  • Eczema: Eczema is characterized by redness, itching, and inflammation. A study found that pimecrolimus cream is very effective in reducing symptoms related to atopic dermatitis (a type of eczema). 
  • Sunburn: Sunburns can become painful. People with sunburn often experience inflammation in the form of redness and pain. According to a study conducted on people with sunburn, a 1% hydrocortisone cream is quite effective in reducing burning and itching. 

As you can see, there is enough evidence to support the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory creams and gels. You just have to make sure you are getting the right one for your condition and apply it timely and properly for the effects to become evident.  

Many studies also show that these products can help reduce inflammation without causing serious side effects when used for short periods of time. However, long-term use is not recommended due to potential adverse effects such as skin irritation or allergic reactions. Additionally, some studies also point out that using these gels and creams may not be as effective as taking oral medication or having physical therapy treatments such as massage or stretching. 

What Conditions Are Treated With Anti-inflammatory Gels and Creams? 

Anti-inflammatory gels and creams can be effective in treating many different types of inflammatory conditions. The conditions on which these topical treatments prove to be most useful include:



Anti-inflammatory gels and creams can be used to reduce inflammation in most cases of arthritis. Regular application of these topicals can alleviate pain associated with different types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. They may reduce swelling around joints as well as reduce other inflammatory symptoms such as stiffness or tenderness.


Bursitis is an inflammatory condition affecting bursae, the fluid filled sacs located around joints. In worst cases, the patient might not be able to move the affected joint. Anti-inflammatory gels and creams can help to reduce swelling in these areas as well as alleviate associated pain and help people suffering from or experiencing disabling joints, swelling, redness, and bruising.


Tendinitis is the inflammation of tendons. It is usually caused by overuse or injury to a tendon or joint area. Anti-inflammatory gels and creams can help to reduce swelling around affected areas as well as alleviate associated pain. Regularly massaging the affected area can also help with stiffness. 


Eczema is a skin condition characterized by redness, itching, flaking skin, etc. These symptoms can be painful if left untreated. Applying anti-inflammatory gels and creams can help soothe irritated skin and relieve some of the symptoms caused by eczema flares. 

Muscle Strains and Sprains


Whether you have simply strained your muscles or are suffering from a serious sprain, anti-inflammatory gels can help manage the pain. A common cause behind such conditions is exercise. When you exercise, tiny micro tears start developing in muscle tissue, which often results in inflammation. This process is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS. Topical application of anti-inflammatory medicines can provide relief from this pain. If applied directly after vigorous exercise sessions or for prevention before exercise sessions begin, they can help reduce DOMS inflammation quickly and effectively. 

Sports Injuries 


Sportsmen regularly encounter injuries because of bodily damage injuries inflicted during play or practice sessions . These soft tissue injuries often involve inflammation and swelling of tissues around the affected area. Anti-inflammatory gels and creams can help to reduce swelling around injured areas quickly while promoting healing at the same time. They contain active ingredients which help speed up recovery times when used correctly after the injury. 

Postoperative Swelling

Interesting Facts and Statistics about Medical Surgeries

Many patients experience postoperative swelling because the trauma of the procedure causes fluid accumulation around the affected area. Applying an anti-inflammatory gel or cream can help quickly reduce the swelling. It may also speed up the healing process depending upon the active ingredients present in its formulation. Just be sure to obtain permission from your medical practitioner before starting to use it. 

Here are some interesting facts and statistics about medical surgeries

Minor Cuts and Burns

Minor cuts and burns often lead to inflammation because of the damage inflicted on the skin surface. If the fluid starts accumulating in the affected area, you may also experience tissue edema. Applying anti-inflammatory gels or creams over minor cuts or burns not only speeds up the healing process, it also provides quick relief from pain associated with tissue edema. 


Allergy is an inflammatory response of our body when certain allergens come in contact with our body. Their exposure may lead to allergic flares characterized by itching, redness, swelling, etc.  Applying anti-inflammatory gels or creams over affected areas may provide fast relief from symptoms caused by allergies. They may also help limit flare ups in future situations.  

Besides these common conditions, topical anti-inflammatory products can also be used to treat more serious conditions such as lupus or multiple sclerosis. However, they should be used with more powerful medications for full recovery.

Controversy Surrounding the Effectiveness of Anti-inflammatory Gels and Creams 

Are Anti Inflammatory Creams Effective

The use of anti-inflammatory gels and creams has come under scrutiny in recent years for a number of reasons. Firstly, where many studies have shown their effectiveness in providing relief from inflammation, the number of studies showing otherwise should also be taken into account and suggest that products may not be as effective as claimed.

Secondly, the research supporting their use is also criticized for being conducted on a small scale or for not being designed well enough, raising questions about their conclusions. Plus, many of these studies were actually funded by the manufacturers of these products, so the conclusions may have been drawn in their favor. 

Their effectiveness can also be impacted by the nature of the condition they are used for. For example, some products may provide instant, sometimes lasting relief, in conditions such as minor muscle strains or sprains. But these may be less effective in treating symptoms of arthritis or tendonitis unless paired with an oral medication.  

Another aspect that you should note is that not all anti-inflammatory gels and creams are created equal. Some of these contain higher amounts of active ingredients than others which can also impact their effectiveness. So you have to be very careful about choosing the right anti-inflammatory gel or cream for your condition.

Moreover, factors such as skin type, individual response to medication, and adherence to the treatment regimen also influence the outcome. There has also been some controversy surrounding their long-term effectiveness since they only address one aspect of reducing overall inflammation. For example, some studies have suggested that constant use of anti-inflammatory products may have deleterious effects on the overall health if used without accompanying dietary changes.

Some studies have suggested that long-term use of corticosteroids can promote tissue weakening leading to bone fractures or other complications. Then there are potential side effects which can include dry skin, skin irritation, allergic reactions, increased sun sensitivity, and more. 

For these reasons it is important to discuss all the treatment options with your healthcare provider before deciding whether an anti-inflammatory topical is right for you.


In conclusion, when used correctly, anti-inflammatory gels and creams can be effective at relieving short-term inflammation in certain areas of the body. You can use these to treat conditions like arthritis, bursitis, tendinitis, muscle aches, and more. Be sure to apply them directly to the affected area three to four times a day for best and quick results. 

However, there is still some controversy surrounding their use due to their long term efficacy and potential side effects, like skin irritation. It is important to discuss any potential risks with a healthcare professional before using them on a regular basis. With proper usage, anti-inflammatory gels and creams can prove to be an effective option for reducing short-term inflammation.