If you ever wondered about the evidence for those hot and/or smelly creams for arthritis pain, this column drove home a "healthy skeptic" perspective, emphasizing, for the most part, that "there’s no good evidence that any over-the-counter rub or cream offers real relief for arthritis," according to one source.
We say "for the most part" because it ended oddly, allowing some broad, vague, unsubstantiated and unquantified claims — "seem to help some people…can give you temporary relief."
We also wish the column had given a glimpse of the regulatory oversight that allows claims like "deep penetrating pain relief" or "proven clinical effectiveness in treating arthritis pain" when the column itself kept repeating:
The story listed the cost per unit for all three creams.
The story didn’t provide the numbers from a cited 1994 study on capsaicin benefits. Overall, the message of "no good evidence" was clear. But, confusingly, the story gave the last word to a rheumatologist who said some of these creams "do seem to help some people…it can give you temporary relief." If you’re going to do that, we think you need to provide numbers. How many people? How long is temporary? To end the story in this way – without numbers to back up this flip-flop of a message – was disappointing.
The story was clear about lack of effectiveness overall – and that with the capsaicin cream, "the burning sensation is often intolerable."
The story went right to the point: "there’s no good evidence that any over-the-counter rub or cream offers real relief for arthritis, Altman says. Very few high-quality studies have ever investigated the products, he says, and the results that do exist have been far from convincing."
There was no disease-mongering of the pain of arthritis.
Two expert sources in rheumatology were interviewed.
The story danced around the topic of a placebo effect without ever directly addressing it. And it didn’t make any direct comparison with aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or with heating pads or other options.
The over-the-counter availability of the creams is clear in the story.
The story offered this context: "Over the centuries, people have been willing to rub all sorts of things into their sore joints. Today, arthritis sufferers can choose from a wide range of over-the-counter creams with different approaches to relief." By the end of the story it was clear that today’s creams may not offer much advancement over what’s been done with rubs through the centuries.
It’s safe to assume that the story did not rely on a news release.