Pain medications - non narcotic

Pain medicines are also called analgesics. Every type of pain medicine has benefits and risks. Specific types of pain may respond better to one kind of medication than to another kind. What takes away your pain might not work for someone else.

See also: Pain medications - narcotic

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are good for many types of pain. Over-the-counter means you can buy them without a prescription from your health care provider. OTC medicines include:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Acetaminophen is called a non-aspirin pain reliever.

  • Acetaminophen can be used to lower a fever and soothe headaches and other common aches and pains.
  • This medicine is easier on the stomach than other pain medications, and it is safer for children. Most doctors recommend acetaminophen first for arthritis pain because it has fewer side effects than other pain medications.
  • Do not take more than 4 grams (4,000 mg) of acetaminophen on any one day. It can be harmful to the liver if you take more than the recommended dose. See: Acetaminophen overdose

NSAIDs are pain medicines that:

  • You can buy without a perscription, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve)
  • Your doctor can prescribe, such as flurbiprofen (Ansaid), diclofenac (Voltaren, Cataflam), tolmetin (Tolectin), ketoprofen (Orudis, Oruvail), nabumetone (Relafen), dexibuprofen (Seractil), indomethacin (Indocin), meloxicam (Mobic, or a generic form), and celecoxib (Celebrex)

These medicines relieve pain, but they also reduce swelling from arthritis or a muscle sprain or strain. When they are taken for short periods of time, they are safe for most people. A few precautions are:

  • DO NOT give aspirin to children. Reye syndrome can occur when aspirin is used to treat children with viral infections, such as chickenpox or the flu.
  • If you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or a history of stomach or digestive tract bleeding, talk to your health care provider before using any over-the-counter NSAID.

Even if you are healthy, if you are taking pain relievers on most days, tell your doctor. You may need to be watched for side effects.

Alternative Names

Medications for pain; Drugs for pain; Analgesics


Max MB. Pain. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 28.

Zhou YL, Principles of pain management. In: Bradley WG, Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, eds. Neurology in Clinical Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Butterworth-Heinemann Elsevier; 2008:chap 48.

Update Date: 5/22/2012

Reviewed by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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