Treatment of intractable pain with topical large-dose capsaicin: Preliminary report

Wendye R. Robbins, Peter S. Staats, Jon Levine, Howard L. Fields, Robert W. Allen, James N. Campbell, Marco Pappagallo

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117 Scopus citations


Complex regional pain syndromes (CRPS) and neuropathic pain are often poorly controlled by conventional pharmacologic interventions. We administered 8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-noneamide (capsaicin) at doses of 5%-10% to individuals with such disorders in this trial. Previous limitations to trials with larger-dose, topical concentrations of capsaicin included intense burning sensations experienced after application. To enable patients to tolerate the high concentrations, we first performed regional anesthesia. All patients reported at least some relief. Of 10 patients, 9 obtained substantial analgesia that lasted 1-18 wk. At Week 1 after therapy, the mean verbal analog scale (VAS) scores decreased from 8.0 to 3.0. At Week 4 after therapy, mean VAS score was 4.5. Analgesia lasted from <1 wk (1 patient) to more than 50 wk (1 patient). Patients received one to eight treatments. With one exception, patients receiving more than one treatment obtained additional relief with subsequent treatment. Pain responsive to opioids was the only side effect of treatment. Large-dose capsaicin administered with regional anesthesia may effectively minimize refractory CRPS and neuropathic pain. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study in patients with bilateral peripheral neuropathy using epidural anesthesia with and without large-dose topical capsaicin is in progress. Implications: Sensory neuropathies are associated with many diseases. Pain from these disorders can produce greater disability than the primary disease processes themselves. Currently available therapies are limited. However, the intermittent application of large-dose topical capsaicin may provide significant pain relief, decrease chronic analgesic dependence, and decrease aggregate health care expenditures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)579-583
Number of pages5
JournalAnesthesia and analgesia
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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