…doesn’t really work! – Placebos are a sham, but the kind that doctors and researchers use. They’re usually mere sugar pills in disguise, which are used in a clinical treatment study. The effectiveness of the actual medication is compared with the placebo to determine if the medication works. For some people, the placebo works nearly as well as the medication, but why they work at all, remains a mystery. It turns out that one of the medicines that most of us rely on is just a placebo. One researcher says, “You might as well rub your skin with a bit of spit.”

Popular over-the-counter creams, heat gels and other rub-on or spray-on remedies for sports injuries and arthritis aches are a waste of money. Biochemist Andrew Moore says, “The point is, you go to any pharmacy in the US and find tons of these things, but they don’t work.”

These preparations are thought to work by producing a counter-irritant effect. The warmth and redness they cause (and with some, the strong smell) distract users from their musculoskeletal pain. One small study found that these preparations were no better than oral aspirin.

Dr. Scott Zashin says, “You have to look at cost. A very expensive brand might not be more effective than a generic, but just have better marketing. It’s not a miracle product. I used to use Ben Gay all the time when I played soccer. I felt better with it at that time.” He says the warmth produced at the pain site might cause the muscles to relax. Would he recommend the creams to consumers? “I wouldn’t waste the money.”

Here’s something that DOES work: the great radio shows we bring you every week on unknowncountry.com! But another scientific word may soon apply to us: “extinct,” if we don’t get more support from our readers and listeners, so show us you care: subscribe today!

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