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Best Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Updated on January 4, 2019
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Margaret Minnicks has been an online writer for many years. She researches and shares remedies for using certain products for illnesses.

Tylenol | Source

Before we get into the discussion about the best over-the-counter medicines, let's define the expression that is sometimes shortened to OTC.

When the person or team coined the expression, they probably didn't think it through. Over-the-counter drugs are those the consumer picks up himself off the shelves in a drugstore. People with a valid prescription from a physician are the ones who actually get medicine passed to them "over the counter" by someone who works in a pharmacy. Therefore, the term seems to be the opposite of what really happens.

No prescription is needed for over-the-counter items consumers can pick up and purchase themselves. Over-the-counter items can be purchased from stores without a pharmacy, such as department stores, supermarkets, convenient stores, and even gas stations.

About 81 percent of the public uses over-the-counter medications for the treatment of minor aches and pains that do not require the direct supervision of a doctor. The public has also found that some cheaper over-the-counter drugs work just as well as higher-priced prescription drugs.

Bayer Aspirins
Bayer Aspirins

Pain Relievers

Pain relievers are medicines designed to reduce or relieve pain associated with arthritis, backaches, headaches, sore joints and sore muscles.

There are many different pain relievers on the market. While they all have been advertised to be the answer for pain, each one is better for a particular type of pain. Also, each one has its own advantages and risks. Once a person finds a pain reliever that works, he tends to stick with it.

Excedrin | Source

All Pain Relievers Are Not Equal

When a person is hurting, he wants the pain to go away, and he wants the pain to go away fast. Consumers make the mistake of grabbing any pain reliever whether that is the best for them or not.

They should know that all pain relievers are not equal. Some pain relievers are best for some ailments and some pain relievers are most effective for others. People don't always use the best pain reliever that could help them get comfort faster and more effectively.

Aleve | Source

Only Two Types of Pain Relievers

While there are many brands available, they all fall into either one or two categories.

  1. Acetaminophen. Tylenol is in this category.
  2. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Most pain relievers belong in this category.

Some people buy brand names without knowing what they are or what they really do.

  • Tylenol contains acetaminophen. It is the strongest of the pain relievers. It is a steroid and causes blood sugar level to rise in diabetics. There is a warning on the packaging that excessive use could cause liver damage.
  • Excedrin contains acetaminophen and aspirin.
  • Bayer and Bufferin are brand names for aspirin.
  • Advil, Motrin, and Nurofen are ibuprofen. They do the same thing as aspirins.
  • Naproxen is a generic anti-inflammatory medicine sold under dozens of brand names. The one that most Americans are familiar with is Aleve.

Below is a list of ailments certain pain relievers are good for. While they are all pain relievers, they reduce or relieve pain in different areas. Hopefully, this will help anyone who is in pain.

Brand Names
Type of Pain
Best overall pain reliever, but could cause liver and kidney failure
Most popular; good for headaches but won't do much for arthritis, sprains, or swelling
Bayer Aspirin/Bufferin
They go where the pain is
Absorbed into the bloodstream
Excellent for backaches and joint pain but won't do much for anything else
Targets inflammation, often a contributing factor to back pain.
Best for arthritis, sprains, sunburns, ulcers, and acid reflux
Is an ibuprofen
Best for migraine headaches
Contains the effects of aspirin and acetaminophen
For headaches and lower back pain, cold symptoms, dental pain and fever
Ibuprofen that is good for children
Menstrual cramps; backaches, headaches, and irritability
Contains three ingredients: antihistamine, a diuretic, and pain reliever
Best for muscle pain, fever, and inflammation
Helps with pain, fever and inflammation
Used to treat minor aches and pains
Combination of aspirin and caffeine.
For toothaches and sore gums
Contains benzocaine and menthol to soothe the area
Topical analgesic, immediate relief pain to the joints
Has a combination of menthol, camphor, aloe, green tea, lemon balm and vitamin E
Advil | Source

What do you use for pain?

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


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    • Ellison Hartley profile image

      Ellison Hartley 

      15 months ago from Maryland, USA

      This is really helpful. The chart that details what medicine is best for what is a great reference. I'm recovering from a TBI and nothing over the counter helps my head and neck anymore...prior to the accident I used excedrine migraine and it worked great for me. Not anymore! lol


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