In the past, we’ve found good pain relief for joint problems with capsaicin products (see September 2002). We also reported on research where capsaicin over the heel nerves provided relief for foot pain (see November 2003). These findings are encouraging, but capsaicin isn’t a simple rub-it-in-and-go product.
Capsaicin itself is a strong nerve irritant. It stimulates nerves to release substance P, a neurotransmitter that signals pain. This release is why the horse may react with stomping, kicking, etc. on the initial application. Substance P can also trigger inflammatory reactions and increased blood flow — and these two facts are important to how and when you use capsaicin.
The foot-pain research study placed capsaicin over the digital nerves running down the back of the pastern to partially block experimentally induced foot pain. The findings were encouraging, but our own preliminary field trials in some horses with chronic laminitis pain were equivocal to disappointing.
Our less-than-satisfactory results could be due to a failure to influence pain coming from the front of the foot or the existence of ongoing low-grade inflammation, both likely possibilities when dealing with laminitis. Two horses with heel pain showed a better response, with noticeable improvement but not complete resolution of the pain. If you’re using capsaicin for ringbone or coffin-joint arthritis problems, it should be applied to the front of the pastern and coronary band.
Capsaicin uses and guidelines:
• Expect some “annoyance” like reactions the first day or so of use. (Newer formulations of capsaicin creams have brought lesser reactions than we saw in 2002, but they are still likely to occur.)
• While some pain relief is usually evident after the first application, full effect will take from approximately two to three days.
• Apply the product two to three times a day initially for full effect. Maximum results are only obtained when the problem area has been definitively localized and capsaicin is applied directly over the area.
• Because of its potential to trigger or worsen inflammatory reactions, use capsaicin with extreme caution, if at all, over acute injuries. However, the local circulatory promotion may sometimes help with resolving edema/stocking up in chronic conditions. Discuss its use with your veterinarian in these cases.
• Dry cotton stable wraps can be used over areas that have had capsaicin applied, but do not use neoprene wraps or magnets.
• Do not mix capsaicin with DMSO.
• Do not apply capsaicin over recently clipped areas.
• Do not use other topicals over capsaicin-treated areas within 24 hours of last application, and be sure to wash the area gently but thoroughly with a mild soap and water.
Our favorite capsaicin products include Capsa-Cream (www.uckele.com 800-248-0330), Activex Peformance Topical Pain Reliever 888-848-3343), Vapco Bloc-It (www.vapco.com 800-523-5614) and Sure Block (www.farnamhorse.com 800-234-2269).
You’ll need to apply it regularly, two to three times a day, and directly on the painful spot. Expect some initial relief, but full relief will take a couple of days.
We find capsaisin a good choice for horses battling stiffness, such as in chronic arthritis. However, we recommend you discuss its use on hot, swollen, painful joints and acute injuries with your veterinarians.
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