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How do I Choose the Best Pain Medication?

By Bethany Keene
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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It is important to choose the best pain medication based on your needs, to ensure that you are taking the medication safely and that it will be effective at treating your pain. First, you will need to determine if you need prescription pain medication, or if over-the-counter pain medication will suffice. If the pain is severe or long lasting, it may be best to visit a doctor for some professional advice. In many instances, however, such as for headaches or muscle strains, over-the-counter medication will work well.

There are a few different types of pain medications available. The two most common oral pain medications are acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. Topical corticosteroids are medications that are applied topically to painful areas on the skin, but are not taken orally. Any of these mdications can be effective, but it depends on the type of pain you are treating. Narcotic pain relievers are only available through a doctor's prescription.

Acetaminophen drugs can reduce pain as well as reduce fevers, but they do not have any effect on swelling. Tylenol® is the most commonly known drug that contains acetaminophen as an active ingredient. For reducing swelling and inflammation, as well as a fever, it will be necessary to take an NSAID, such as Aspirin® or generic Ibuprofen, among others. Each pain reliever at the drugstore will be clearly marked. For relieving pain or itching on the skin, a corticosteroid such as Ben-Gay® or Icy Hot® is a common choice.

Of course, these are simply the most basic types of medications for pain. Medications to treat pain often include additional ingredients based on the symptoms one is experiencing; for instance, a pain reliever for migraines might contain an NSAID, acetaminophen, as well as caffeine, because caffeine has been shown to help treat a migraine. A sinus pain reliever may also include a decongestant. A pain reliever for the flu might also contain cough medication, for example.

For this reason and others, it is important to always carefully follow the directions on the package, and to never mix pain relievers, except as advised by a doctor. Pain medication can have dangerous inter-reactions if mixed indiscriminatly with other drugs. It is also important to consider any other medications you are taking when selecting medication for pain. For instance, many cold medications cannot be combined with blood pressure medication, because they can cause the blood pressure to rise. Any and all questions about selecting the best medication for your needs should be directed to your doctor or pharmacist, who should always be kept up to date on any medications you are taking.

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Discussion Comments
By Comparables — On Feb 03, 2011

Amphibious54- I should tell my brother about trying acupuncture. He injured his back in a car accident and he has chronic lower back pain as a result. He is seeking options besides narco pain relievers because he recently had to go through a pain medication detox that was tough for him. His doctor did not help him manage his pain well so he was taking ridiculous amounts of medication; well beyond what he should have been taking.

He has already had to change careers because he can no longer handle the stress of working construction. He is thinking about trying to get his medical marijuana card, but I know that he also wants to find a therapy that will help his back heal.

By Amphibious54 — On Jan 31, 2011

@ Georgesplane- I have to second your opinion about acupuncture. My wife had sciatic nerve problems towards the end of her pregnancy as well as shortly after the baby was born. One of her friends told her about acupuncture as a treatment so she decided to give it a try.

Before the treatment, the pain had been so bad that she could not work and had trouble getting sleep. On her first treatment, she ended up falling into a deep sleep on the treatment table and drooling like a baby (she would kill me if she knew I said that, but I want to emphasize the effects of the treatment). After only two weeks of treatments (four in total), her pain was gone until after she had the baby. When the pain came back, it only took two more treatments for it to go away. It has now been a year and a half, and she does not have sciatic nerve pain anymore.

By Georgesplane — On Jan 29, 2011

Sometimes the best pain medication is no medication at all. I have chronic pain associated with TMJ, and the regular treatments of muscle relaxers and narcotic pain medication would only offer temporary relief from the pain.

After a number of trips to the doctor, only to have them prescribe more meds, I asked if there were any treatment options besides surgery. They wrote me a referral for physical therapy and told me that other patients had success with acupuncture.

After that visit, I tried both acupuncture and physical therapy, and both treatments worked very well for me. My flare-ups are far and few between now, and they are not as severe as they used to be. If I had never asked, my doctor would have just kept prescribing relaxers and narcotics.

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