Navigating the Drugstore

November 8, 2018

Although we work with our patients to create custom pain management solutions tailored toward each individual and their unique situation, there are times when you may find yourself standing in A aisle in a drugstore the pain relief aisle of the drugstore. It is overwhelming, to say the least, and it’s important to choose the right medicine.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications can play a part in day-to-day pain management. They are accessible, affordable, and oftentimes effective. But there are some things you need to know and some things to watch out for when you find yourself faced with all the options.

  • Store shelves are usually arranged according to the symptoms of a certain illness or health problem, so look for signage to help you find what you need.
  • Before taking any drug, always read and follow the label. Be sure you know what you are taking and its recommended dose.
  • Use OTC medication as briefly as possible, only for temporary relief of acute pain. If your pain lasts longer than 10 days, it could be a sign of a more serious problem, and you need to talk to your doctor. Never take more than the recommended dose or take pain relievers for longer than recommended.
  • If the pain is a nuisance, but doesn’t require medical help, consider icing or heating to provide pain relief first.
  • If your pain affects only a small part of your body, a topical pain-relieving cream, such as Bengay, might help.
  • If your whole back hurts, a cream may not be an option. You may need acetaminophen (Tylenol) or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen.
  • Acetaminophen can harm your liver, especially in large doses or in combination with alcohol. NSAIDs can upset your stomach, so it’s best to take them with a meal. NSAIDs can also be hard on the kidneys.
  • Acetaminophen and NSAIDs are found in many products that are not primarily intended for pain relief, such as sleep aids and cough syrups. Be cautious of this because you may be taking more than you realize.

A Closer Look at the Big Three

Although aspirin was once the go-to OTC medicine for many types of pain, today there are three drugs most commonly used: acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen.

Acetaminophen — Best known by the brand name Tylenol, acetaminophen is considered the safest drug on the market. As the first choice for fever and pain control in many cases, it may be used by adults and children and is considered safe to use during pregnancy as early as the first trimester. Use acetaminophen as directed and only take the right dose for your age and situation.

Ibuprofen — Common brand names include Advil and Motrin. Ibuprofen is an NSAID, which is used for pain control mostly related to arthritis, toothaches, back aches, menstrual cramps, and similar ailments. Those with chronic kidney disease or ulcers should ask your doctor about the best dose or alternative medications that will help while minimizing any side effects.

Naproxen — Also known as Aleve, naproxen is one of the most commonly prescribed NSAIDs for pain control — in the same class of drugs as ibuprofen. Naproxen is usually used to relieve pain from a variety of sources, as well as to reduce fever, swelling and stiffness. It is the preferred NSAID for long-term use in people with a high risk of cardiovascular complications (such as heart attack or stroke) due to its relatively low risk of causing such problems. Unlike ibuprofen, naproxen can be more irritating to the stomach. Those with diabetes should not take naproxen since it can lead to problems with peptic ulcer disease.

Whatever you end up selecting from the pharmacy, tell your doctor. While these medicines can be helpful, you should not be taking them all the time. Since OTC meds can react negatively with prescribed meds, your doctor needs to know about every single medicine you take, prescribed or not. Don’t leave it to chance. Your doctor knows you and your health history and is best equipped to advise you.


Southside Pain Specialists is your one-stop for pain management with a multitude of pain relief options tailored to your specific needs. Southside Pain Specialists follows the standards of the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, The American Board of Pain Medicine and the International Spinal Injection Society and works hard to provide patients comprehensive, caring pain relief when they need it most. Check out our website or contact us today at 205.332.3155 to learn more.