Pain management medications come in all shapes and sizes, and some may be better suited for specific kinds of pain than others. To get the most out of your over-the-counter pain medications, it is essential to know what each medication does and how it relieves pain. To learn more about the most popular pain medications available over the counter, read on:

What’s the Difference Between OTC and Prescription?

Before getting into over-the-counter medications, it is best to know what makes them different from prescription drugs. Some over-the-counter medicines are merely smaller, controlled doses of a prescription. For pain relief, however, prescription medications are used to treat chronic, intense pain. Typically used after surgical procedures and other sources of severe pain, prescription pain medications must be doctor-prescribed. In some cases, they may also be addictive and require controlled use. Over-the-counter pain medications are designed to relieve less severe pain and can be picked up from a pharmacy without a prescription. However, this doesn’t make them any less dangerous-- always follow instructions provided on the medication package or your doctor’s recommendations.


Over-the-counter pain relief comes in two primary forms: NSAIDs and acetaminophen. Acetaminophen (also known as Tylenol) works by increasing the body’s pain threshold, making a given amount of pain seem more tolerable than before. In addition, the drug can reduce fevers by directly affecting the heat-management center of the brain, and in some cases, can reduce body heat.


Acetaminophen works best for arthritis pain, period pain, and reducing light fevers when someone is sick. However, acetaminophen cannot decrease swelling or redness associated with some injuries or conditions.


Acetaminophen can also be combined with other chemicals like aspirin or caffeine to relieve headaches. Excedrin is an example of this combination and is designed specifically for relieving severe headaches and migraines.


The other type of pain management medications available without a prescription are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. These medications work by targeting prostaglandins, a group of enzymes designed to manage pain, inflammation, and fever. NSAIDs reduce the number of prostaglandins in the body as a means of relieving pain and inflammation. NSAIDs also specifically target prostaglandins that promote blood clotting and strengthen the stomach lining, taking these kinds of drugs may promote bleeding and stomach ulcers.


There are quite a few common NSAIDs available, including:

  • Ibuprofen (Motrin/Advil)
  • Aspirin
  • Naproxen (Aleve/Anaprox/Naprelan/Naprosyn)
  • Indomethacin (Indocin)
  • Celecoxib (Celebrex)
  • Diclofenac (Cambia/Cataflam/Voltaren)


Before using any pain relief medication, always read the medication instructions to avoid complications. For those experiencing chronic pain, consider speaking with a primary care physician regarding your pain and pain management solutions. To browse drug-free pain management methods, visit Medical Supply Depot.

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