Topical Lidocaine: What Is It and How Does It Work for Pain Relief?

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Lidocaine (pronounced lie-doh-kayn) is a medication that can be applied topically (to the skin) to temporarily relieve pain. It is an active ingredient that’s found in many over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription topical pain relievers.1

What Is Lidocaine?

Lidocaine is a medication that numbs the area in which it’s applied. It is in a class of medications called anesthetics. When lidocaine is applied to the skin to relieve pain, it’s known as a topical analgesic (pain reliever).2

Lidocaine can come in many different dosage forms, such as:1

  • Creams
  • Gels
  • Ointments
  • Sprays
  • Patches

How Does Lidocaine Work?

Lidocaine can relieve many different types of pain by blocking pain signals sent from nerves in the skin. When the nerves are blocked, it creates a numbing sensation or a temporary loss of feeling.1

Unlike orally ingested pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (TYLENOL®), you can control how topical lidocaine targets your pain. When applied to your skin, it gives you pain relief only in the area that you apply it.

What Is Lidocaine Used For?

Topical lidocaine can be used to temporarily relieve pain. It can be
used on the following areas:3

Back & Shoulders

Back & Shoulders

Legs & Hips

Legs & Hips

Knees, Elbows & Ankles

Knees, Elbows & Ankles

Small Joints

Small Joints

Topical Lidocaine Benefits

Topical analgesics have several potential benefits. They include:4

  • Targeted pain relief — topical pain relievers such as lidocaine allow you to apply pain relief directly to the specific area where you need it the most
  • Favorable safety profile when used as directed – topical lidocaine generally has few side effects that usually do not require medical attention
  • Provides another form of pain relief other than oral medication — topical lidocaine is well recognized as an effective option for the management of acute pain5

How To Use Lidocaine

Lidocaine is a topical pain reliever that you apply directly to your skin. Use it exactly as your doctor instructs or as listed on the package.1

Unless otherwise instructed by your doctor, don’t apply topical lidocaine to irritated skin or skin with blisters, rashes, infections, or cuts.

You can apply a thin layer of lidocaine directly to clean dry skin.

Wash your hands before and after application to avoid numbness in your fingers.

How Lidocaine Compares To Other Topical Pain Reliever Ingredients

Topical pain relievers come in many forms (creams, gels, sprays, and patches) and there are several types available. Here’s how Lidocaine compares to some others:

Lidocaine — is a topical analgesic that provides numbing relief for your aches and pains by blocking the signals of the nerve endings in the skin.

Diclofenac sodium — an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) found in many rub-on treatments. When absorbed into skin, it works to reduce inflammation.

Methyl salicylate — (oil of wintergreen) has a minty smell and creates a cooling sensation when applied to skin acting as a distraction to pain points.

Capsaicin — a compound found in chili peppers that produces a warming sensation.

Menthol — (mint camphor) causes a cooling sensation and that feeling desensitizes the nerve endings. Like ice packs, menthol decreases arterial blood flow.

TYLENOL® PRECISE™ Products With Lidocaine

Lidocaine is the primary active ingredient in new TYLENOL® PRECISE™ products. Learn more about our TYLENOL® PRECISE™ external pain relief cream by clicking here.

Lidocaine and Safety

Lidocaine is a safe and effective treatment for the temporary relief of pain when its used as directed. However, it is important to note that there are warnings and precautions when using lidocaine such as:

For external use only.

Do not use in large quantities, particularly over raw surfaces or blistered area.

When using this product avoid contact with eyes.

Stop use and ask a doctor if condition worsens, symptoms persist for more than 7 days, or if symptoms clear up and occur again within a few days.

Keep out of reach of children. If swallowed, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away.

Consumers should always read and follow the product label of any lidocaine product.


Yes, lidocaine cream may cause a loss of feeling that numbs the skin in the application area. The numbing effect can relieve pain by stopping your nerves from sending pain signals.1

Yes, lidocaine does expire. You shouldn’t use lidocaine after the expiration date. See the expiration date on the package to find out when your product will expire.

Related content


1. Lidocaine (Topical Application Route). Mayo Clinic. Updated May 1, 2023. Accessed May 30, 2023.

2. Lidocaine Skin Cream or Ointment. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed May 31, 2023.

3. External analgesic drug products for over-the-counter human use: tentative final monograph. FDA. Fed Regist. 1983;48(27):5852. Accessed May 29, 2023.

4. Voute M, Morel V, Pickering G. (2021). Topical Lidocaine for Chronic Pain Treatment. Drug design, development and therapy. 2021; 15, 4091–4103.

5. Lidocaine and Pain Management in the Emergency Department

6. Topical Pain Relief: What Is It + How Does It Work?