Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease in which the cartilage in the joint breaks down, causing pain, inflammation and motility problems.
It can be very painful in further stages when bits of bone break and float around in the joint causing inflammatory reactions that further damage the cartilage.
It is the most common and chronic condition of the joints.
It affects roughly 50 million people in this world.
It is more prevalent in women than in men. It mostly affects the hips, knees, lower back and neck, small joints of fingers and bases of thumb.
It is a chronic disease, and there is no cure for it, but it is manageable.
Physical activity and regular movement are very important for managing the symptoms of osteoarthritis Weight management prevents additional stress to the weight-bearing joints such as knees and can help reduce pain and further joint damage.
Pain and anti-inflammatory medications are also used for managing symptoms. Joint surgery or replacement is also a potential way to help osteoarthritis patients.
It has been observed that an organic compound, Menthol, can help relieve various symptoms of osteoarthritis including pain and inflammation.
Let’s understand this natural analgesic better.
What is Menthol?
Menthol is an organic compound, waxy, crystalline, clear or white.
It can be made synthetically or obtained naturally from corn mint, peppermint, or other mint oils. Mentha arvensis is the primary mint species used to main natural menthol crystals and flakes.
It has various applications as an analgesic, antipruritic and anti-inflammatory agent.
It is used in various cosmetic and hygiene products such as aftershave, lip balms, perfumes, toothpaste, etc.
Analgesic, anti-inflammatory and cooling properties of menthol help in the treatment of osteoarthritis.
The means and mechanisms by which menthol helps aiding osteoarthritis would be discussed in the next section.
Proven Benefits of Menthol for Osteoarthritis
Menthol is an effective natural pain and inflammation reliever and can be good for pain in osteoarthritis. It increases the efficacy of arthritis creams and acts as an anti-inflammatory counterirritant.
1. Menthol acts as a pain reliever
People who have arthritis suffer from joint pain. The pain can be classified in two ways: pain and tenderness.
Sharper pain is felt when osteoarthritis patients move the affected joint or put pressure on joints.
Tenderness is the discomfort felt when pressing down on the joint. It can also include visible inflammation of the joint area.
Pain and stiffness go hand in hand when it comes to arthritis. Cartilage in joints is supposed to act as a shock absorber when the joints move, enabling them to move swiftly.
If the cartilage breaks down, the bone to bone rubbing produces friction and pain. Patients might also feel or hear their joints crackling when they move.
Gradually, patients lose flexibility and range of movement decreases. It takes years for osteoarthritis to progress and takes over the joints fully.
So, it is possible to recognize the early signs to ensure effective management of the condition.
Various pain relievers, topical or ingested and braces to support joints are used to manage arthritis pain and maintain an independent and active lifestyle.
It has been observed in various studies that topical usage of menthol can help relieve pain in joint problems such as osteoarthritis.
It can also increase the functioning of joints.
A study was conducted to observe the effect of topical menthol or placebo on knee pain and functioning amongst patients suffering from knee osteoarthritis.
The aim of the study was to observe the ability to perform functional tasks, and knee pain felt while completing these tasks amongst people with osteoarthritis.
These criteria were assessed after application of either 3.5% menthol gel or inert placebo. 20 people with osteoarthritis volunteered to participate in the study which went on for one week.
Each was given a random application of placebo or 3.5% menthol and their pain while performing functional tasks was analyzed and reported.
It was observed that menthol application caused a significant pain reduction during functional tasks. There were no differences detected in functional tasks and pain in subjects who received a placebo.
Overall the findings provided partial evidence for the efficacy of menthol in relieving pain and improving functionality in osteoarthritis patients.
The analgesic effect of menthol comes from the fact that menthol causes a feeling of “coolness” due to the stimulation of ‘cold’ receptors of that area.
It was observed that menthol had a dose-dependent effect on the pain threshold.
A study was conducted to compare the pain-relieving effects of menthol vs. ice. The criteria “delayed onset of muscle soreness” was used to analyze their effect.
16 subjects were randomized to receive either menthol or ice treatment following an exercise routine developed to cause muscle soreness.
Pain perception was measured using a 10 point visual analog scale and reported.
It was observed that compared to ice, menthol relieved pain more effectively and decreased perceived discomfort to a greater extent.
It has also been observed that Mentha spicata (spearmint) from which menthol can be derived acts as a natural analgesic for reduction of pain in osteoarthritis patients.
Different animal studies have also proven this conclusion to be correct, but other larger clinical trials are required to confirm the efficacy of M. spicata oil.
What does this mean? Menthol acts as a natural pain reliever for osteoarthritis and increases the functionality in patients suffering from the condition. It creates an effect of coolness and relieves pain by activating the cold sensors. Thus it can be used for management of distressing arthritis pain.
2. Menthol increases the efficacy of cetylated fatty acids in arthritis
Cetylated fatty acids are proven to be beneficial in arthritis treatment and are developed as a topical formulation.
This cream helps in relieving the pain associated with osteoarthritis. A study performed at the University of
Connecticut showed that the addition of menthol to this formula makes it work even better.
Adding menthol to normal arthritis cream eases pain better and showed improved movement for several types of arthritis including osteoarthritis.
The cream known as Celadrin underwent a study against a placebo of 40 patients suffering from osteoarthritis.
The findings were encouraging, and the topical cream was considered to be a useful and effective alternative in arthritis treatment.
A new study conducted on 28 patients; 10 with knee osteoarthritis, 10 with wrist osteoarthritis and 8 with osteoarthritis of the elbow.
The cream was applied topically along with menthol and patients were tested for performance and pain before and after one week of treatment.
The results showed that there was a significant improvement in stair climbing ability in individuals with knee osteoarthritis.
Along with this, balance, strength, the range of motion and up and go performance increased significantly and there was a considerable decrease in pain.
One week of treatment with Celadrin and menthol was effective in reducing pain and improving functional performance in individuals with arthritis of knee, elbow, and wrist.
Thus, it was concluded that the efficacy of arthritis treatment was increased by menthol addition.
What does this mean? Menthol can be considered an effective adjuvant in increasing the efficacy of arthritis cream with minimal side effects. Use of topical cream consisting of cetylated fatty acids with menthol enhances the potential for exercise and movement in osteoarthritis patients along with pain reduction.
3. Menthol acts as an anti-inflammatory agent
Inflammation can occur depending on the age group of the patients and various other factors. Menthol acts as an effective anti-inflammatory agent.
It has been observed that the inflammation of the synovial membrane takes place in many patients suffering from primary osteoarthritis.
Further studies have shown that this inflammation plays a crucial role in the progress of osteoarthritis.
The cumulative effects of joint wear and tear, immune response to perceived damage and a state of chronic inflammation lead towards the propagation and progression of the condition.
It has been seen that menthol acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and can be used in the prevention of progression of osteoarthritis.
When used topically, menthol can act as a counterirritant to reduce inflammation and pain attached to inflammation.
Counterirritants are substances that create a mild irritation or inflammation in one area with the target of reducing irritation/ inflammation in another location.
Various counterirritants are available in the market like menthol, capsaicin, etc. But unlike capsaicin, menthol does not cause desensitization.
A study was conducted to compare the anti-inflammatory effects of menthol with mint oil. In vitro investigations using stimulated monocytes ( a type of white blood cells) from healthy volunteers were performed.
The results revealed that menthol is a preferable anti-inflammatory agent as compared to mint oil at therapeutically acceptable concentrations. Menthol blocks prostaglandin, which is an inflammatory hormone.
Counterirritants do not treat arthritis pain but help manage and lower it and change the way pain is perceived.
They produce a temporary hot and cold sensation that interrupts the pain signals to the brain, distracting the brain from pain.
These counterirritants can help reduce inflammation associated pain. They improve blood circulation through the muscles. Proper blood circulation is very important in arthritis.
What does it mean? Menthol acts as an effective anti-inflammatory agent and prevents the progression of osteoarthritis. It also acts as a counterirritant and interrupts the pain signals to the brain, thus reducing inflammation-related pain.
4. Menthol improves the functioning of the immune system in arthritis
During conditions like arthritis, it is very important to maintain a healthy immune system to prevent the condition from progressing.
It is seen that innate immunity plays a huge role in the progression of osteoarthritis.
It has been observed that menthol possesses immunomodulatory effects. It increases the viability of White Blood Cells and also increases interferon production.
Menthol also acts as an antibacterial agent, thus facilitating the immune system. Peppermint oil’s antibacterial qualities are comparable to certain antibiotics.
They are effective against gram-positive and negative strains.
Additional studies need to be performed to be certain of these effects.
What does this mean? Menthol reduces risk factors for osteoarthritis such as poor blood circulation and compromised immune system. It increases blood flow in the topical application and stimulates the production of synovial fluid, thus ensuring proper lubrication. It acts as an immunomodulatory and antibacterial agent, thus ramping up the immune system.
The Dosage of Menthol for Osteoarthritis
Human studies conducted using menthol for arthritis usually use 5 ml of 3.5% menthol gel.
For adults, 2-2.5% menthol topical gel is applied to the affected area 3-4 times regularly.
Minor muscle and joint pains are treated by applying a liberal amount of cream topically to the affected area and massaging.
One patch can be applied to the affected area 3-4 times daily and left in place for no more than 8 hours.
For topical application, there is no prescribed dosage, and it is preferable to consult a health practitioner before using.
It is advised not to use topical menthol near eyes or other mucous membranes. It should not be applied to wounds or damaged skin. It is advised to apply bandages/heat after application.
It is not advisable to take menthol in pregnancy and lactation. A stinging or burning sensation might be felt to some users.
Menthol may inhibit iron absorption. Some medicines may interact with menthol cream. Therefore it is advisable to contact your health practitioner before using.
Menthol is known to be one of the most effective natural pain and inflammation reliever. It can be a very effective alternative for people suffering from osteoarthritis.
Menthol has analgesic topical effects. It increases the functioning of joints in osteoarthritis patients.
It increases the efficacy of arthritis creams and acts as an anti-inflammatory counterirritant.
Amongst all these effects it also lowers the risk factors for osteoarthritis and improves blood circulation and immune system
Menthol can act as a great alternative and adjuvant to arthritis treatment and help effectively manage the condition with fewer side effects.