Pain patches help expand a mature category

October 23, 2006

The Hamacher Resource Group provided the information for this article. The Milwaukee company provides marketing services and business intelligence to the healthcare industry. Wholesalers, manufacturers, and retailers partner with Hamacher Resource Group to improve their profitability. For more information, visit www.Hamacher.com.

The Hamacher Resource Group provided the information for this article. The Milwaukee company provides marketing services and business intelligence to the healthcare industry. Wholesalers, manufacturers, and retailers partner with Hamacher Resource Group to improve their profitability. For more information, visit www.Hamacher.com.

Question: What segment is responsible for revitalizing the mature pain relief category, is a hit with shoppers, and shows potential for continued innovation?

Answer: Over-the-counter pain patches. At $60 million in sales in drug outlets alone during the last year, your pharmacy can't afford to overlook this versatile group of products.

External pain relievers—including rubs, gels, liniments, sprays, balms, creams, and pain patches—are responsible for approximately $180 million annually in drugstore sales, according to Information Resources Inc. (IRI). Who's buying? A cross-section of consumers, from young to old, spanning genders and income levels. External pain relievers treat a multitude of ills, including arthritis pain, ordinary joint soreness and stiffness, back pain, muscle strains, and sports- or recreation-related activities. Even sufferers of headaches and menstrual pain can find help in the external pain relief department.

The number of pain sufferers is significant. About 23% of adults are estimated to have doctor-diagnosed arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 70% to 85% of people experience back pain during their lives—most of them women—related to injury, musculoskeletal issues, stress, or undetermined causes. A society under pressure to lose weight, shape up, and attain better health inevitably suffers its share of sports-related sprains, strains, bumps, and bruises. Pain stemming from any of these causes is severe enough to inhibit lifestyles and work, with an NIH-estimated $65 billion loss of work productivity each year.

Pain relief patches have staked a claim to 33% of the external pain relief category, with products that solve three distinct problems. First and most obviously, they treat pain. Second, external analgesics can be a safe and effective alternative for customers who take prescription medicines that preclude the use of over-the-counter pain relievers. Finally, the advantages that patches wield over their rub and cream shelfmates are numerous. They are portable, easy to apply, and long-lasting. Patch users appreciate not having to worry about mess or potential risk to clothing, as rubs and balms can stain or wear off through friction.

More than 30 of the top 200 external analgesics products included in IRI data are patches, sleeves, or cuffs designed for use around the knee or elbow. Virtually every well-known brand of pain rub also offers a patch: Bengay (Pfizer Consumer Healthcare), Icy Hot (Chattem), Salonpas (Hisamitsu America), Aspercreme (Chattem), Mentholatum (The Mentholatum Co.), and Absorbine Jr. (W.F. Young). Capzasin recently introduced a patch to complement its popular rub. Capzasin's manufacturer, Chattem, also brought to market the IcyHot Pro-Therapy line earlier this year. Combined with the use of supportive braces, ice or hot packs treat an injury or sore joint while the user is on the go or participating in sporting activities. While the success of Pro-Therapy has yet to be determined, this type of innovation is fundamental to the category's continued growth.

Make no mistake, patches are not here to replace rubs, creams, and balms. The act of massaging a pain-relieving treatment onto a sore joint can itself help alleviate pain, and some consumers will always prefer relief that comes from a jar, tube, or bottle. Moreover, patches don't fit everywhere. The back, legs, knees, and elbows are the easiest areas of the body to apply patches and sleeves, while rubs are better suited to other areas. What's clear is that patches are here to stay, and the pharmacy that stocks the latest and greatest—and knows what and when to recommend—can reap the benefits of this category-building segment.

Pain patch never-out list by subcategory
Partial list provided by Hamacher Resource Group

Icy Hot Medicated Back Patch5 ct
Icy Hot Medicated Patch Arm, Neck & Leg5 ct
Salonpas Pain Relieving Patch40 ct
Salonpas Hot Capsicum Patch1 ct
ThermaCare Back Patch Large/Extra Large2 ct
ThermaCare Neck to Arm Patch3 ct
ThermaCare Heatwraps Back/Hip Small/Medium2 ct