Hot peppers add spice to food and contain a wealth of nutrients for good health. They also contain capsaicin, a substance that is effective at blocking pain. Muscle rubs containing capsaicin from hot peppers can help alleviate the pain of sore muscles. Prepared hot pepper, muscle-rub creams are available over the counter, while traditional medicine suggests a variety of ways to create homemade hot pepper rubs for sore muscles.
Capsaicin and Pain
Capsaicin, the active pain-relieving component of hot peppers, tricks the brain into thinking that the area it touches when topically applied is physically hot. Capsaicin binds to a nerve receptor called VR1, which signals to the brain that you are being exposed to extreme heat. The nervous system responds by releasing a neurotransmitter called substance P. Once all the substance P within the area in physical proximity to the capsaicin application is depleted, no more pain signals can travel from that area to the brain. After the initial flush of heat sensation, the sense of pain is significantly dulled.
Sore Muscle Relief
Rubs containing capsaicin are recommended for pain relief from arthritis, joint and muscle pain from fibromyalgia and general muscle soreness from other causes. Capsaicin cream can also be effective in relieving lower back pain. Over-the-counter, topical, capsaicin, pain-relieving creams at 0.075 percent concentration can relieve the soreness of muscles overworked from weightlifting. Hot pepper creams have also been shown to be effective against pain from shingles and diabetic neuropathy.
The folk medicine lore of African Americans combines European and African traditions, passed down through generations by word of mouth. This body of medical folklore includes creating a rub for sore muscles and arthritic joints by mixing cayenne pepper with the gel of the aloe vera plant. Aloe vera also helps heal burns and skin sores, so its base as a muscle rub will also benefit the skin. A teaspoon of dried cayenne pepper can also be mixed with 2 ounces of olive oil to massage into aching muscles, according to authors Jude Williams and Jude Todd in "Jude's Herbal Home Remedies."
Considerations and Warnings
Over-the-counter capsaicin creams might be safer than homemade products because the strength of the capsaicin is strictly regulated. Applying too strong a dose can cause a painful burning sensation on the skin. Hot pepper rubs, even of the commercially prepared variety, can be very painful if they get in the eyes or onto delicate mucous membranes. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after applying.