Why do we embrocate?

In How to, The story on November 5, 2009 at 11:58 am

Capsaicin

Capsaicin

Why do we embrocate?

The reasons we embrocate vary from the aesthetic to the scientific.

That’s right, there is actually science behind our ingredient choices. And we aren’t talking about Dr. Google/Wikipedia science here either.

The primary active ingredient of all three strengths of Northwest Knee Warmers is of course capsaicin oleoresin. This is an extract made from chili peppers and it gives our embrocation its heat. But that’s not all it does.

Capsaicin is also an analgesic. That is, it reduces the perception of pain. This is an effect that accumulates with regular use. Studies have shown that pain perception from arthritis continues to decrease over a 2 week period of daily application.

Other studies have shown that the application of capsaicin to the skin covering a muscle can reduce the pain perception of that muscle. If you’re a geek like us, you will enjoy this technical study here, and an abstract here.

A translation of those studies boils down to a fairly simple concept. Each type of sensation we detect is passed from the skin to the brain by a specialized nerve. We have vibration-sensing nerves, temperature-sensing nerves, touch-sensing nerves, pain-sensing nerves, and so on.

Our pain-sensing nerves use a chemical substance to relay the message of pain to the brain. That substance is called “substance P”. If our pain nerves are strongly stimulated over time, they start to run out of substance P, and are less able to relay the message of pain. Capsaicin stimulates our pain-sensing nerves, but one of the most interesting characteristics of capsaicin is that unlike ginger or even garlic in high concentrations, it does not cause tissue damage via chemical burn. So even though you feel the burn, you aren’t actually doing any damage. Capsaicin’s ability to deplete substance P is the reason we hear from users of Northwest Knee Warmers that when they embrocate before a hard workout or race, they experience much less fatigue than usual afterwards. We haven’t been able to find any corroborating research for this, but it is something we hear often.

Another interesting point is that the body does not build up a tolerance for this effect. That is, using it frequently does not diminish the pain-relieving effect. But one thing that the body can develop a tolerance for is the warm sensation. We have a feeling that this is part of the reason there is such a strong demand for our “Maximum” strength from the long-time embrocation users around Portland. (You know who you are.) The “warmth tolerance” builds up with multiple daily uses, not the more typical 3-4 uses a week, and if application is discontinued for a few days, the tolerance wears off.

We are kept awake at night thinking about how to make the best embrocation possible. Not just an embrocation that doesn’t offend your significant other’s sense of smell (very important), not just an embrocation that feels like butter, and uses the purest all natural ingredients out there, but an embrocation that has a body of science behind it. We think we’re well on our way.

  1. I discovered embrocation and cyclocross the same year. I have come to love both.
    Cyclocross, because it’s one of the few cycling sports I can do with Crohn’s and not totally kill myself — it’s only 45 minutes.
    Embrocation, because with my creaky knees (a byproduct of Crohn’s), I need all the help I can get on those cold, wet mornings, and this stuff does it.
    But yeah, I think it’s time to upgrade to the “Hot” mixture.

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