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By Medifit Education


05 Rubefacient


Rubefacients are used in the treatment of pain in various musculoskeletal conditions.

A rubefacient is a substance for topical application that produces redness of the skin e.g. by causing dilation of the capillaries and an increase in blood circulation.


They have sometimes been used to relieve acute or chronic pain, but there is limited evidence as to their efficacy.



Some plants are natural sources of rubefacients, including nettles and ginger. Plant-derived compounds like salicylic acid, capsaicin, and menthol can also be used as topical applications for the skin. These compounds are sometimes known as counter-irritants, because they cause skin irritation that was once believed to act against the underlying irritation that caused pain in the first place. Medical practitioners in numerous cultures believed it was possible to treat disorders with compounds like counter-irritants into the 20th century, when scientific research indicated that such treatments were of limited effectiveness.


There is not enough evidence to support using gels and creams containing rubefacients for chronic and acute pain, according to a systematic review by Cochrane Researchers. Rubefacients cause irritation and reddening of the skin, due to increased blood flow. The review focused on formulations containing salicylates, which are widely prescribed or sold over the counter as topical treatments for sports injuries and muscle pain.

These are herbs that when applied to the skin, in some form, will cause a gentle and localized increase in surface blood flow (vasodilation). This usually shows as a reddening of the skin. They can vary in potency, and in older medical texts get sub-divided by this power. A vesicant produces actual blistering. They are used mostly today to ease the pain and swelling of arthritic joints.


How Rubefacients Work

Their value is based on bringing blood to the area involved. This has two broad benefits. First the increase in flow through will aid in the cleansing and nourishment of the affected part. This mimics the process of inflammation but is less painful as the biochemical basis is different. The other area of use, though less favoured today, is drawing blood from deeper parts of the body into the skin which may relieve visceral pain. By using rubefacients on different parts of the skin, different internal areas may be affected.


By Medifit Education