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Over-the-Counter Pain Medication for Back or Neck Pain

Which OTC Pain Medication is Best for You?

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Updated April 10, 2014

Over-the-counter pain meds come in two types -- non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Advil, and acetaminophen, also known as Tylenol. NSAIDs are a group of drugs that work similarly to one another to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. There is no one "right" NSAID for back pain -- you may need to try a few before you can identify the best choice. Tylenol is a pain reliever that does not reduce inflammation. All OTC pain medications for back or neck pain have both risks and benefits. Deciding on which to take depends, in part, on your individual health picture.

1. Aspirin

The active ingredient in aspirin has helped to relieve pain for centuries. As an NSAID, aspirin not only reduces back or neck pain, it also plays a role in containing the inflammation itself. Aspirin works by holding back the production of prostaglandins, short lived chemicals in the body that are responsible for inflammation and pain. Believe it or not, aspirin can have serious side effects, although this is rare for most people. Side effects of aspirin might include stomach problems and cardiovascular events. As with any drug, it pays to be informed about aspirin, including how to store it, when to take it, when to stop taking it and how it works to relieve pain.

2. Tylenol (acetaminophen)

Tylenol is the most frequently used pain reliever on the market. It can be taken for short-term relief when you have mild or moderate back or neck pain. It helps muscle-related back pain and/or arthritis. Tylenol works by affecting the central nervous system, reducing the amount of the brain chemical that excites pain signals. It also exerts a cooling effect by inhibiting the prostaglandins that play a role in the brain's heat regulating center. But if you have liver problems, or if you consume a lot of alcohol, you should tread carefully when it comes to Tylenol. It is very easy to take too much of this drug, which can result in serious or fatal liver toxicity.

3. Motrin, Advil, Nuprin -- Ibuprofen

Ibuprofen is taken to reduce pain, tenderness, swelling and stiffness experienced by people with arthritis. It is also used to quell the pain of back strain and muscle aches. Like aspirin, ibuprofen is an NSAID, which means it not only reduces back or neck pain but plays a role in containing the disease process (inflammation) itself. As an NSAID, side effects of this drug might include stomach problems and cardiovascular events. Drugs with ibuprofen as their active ingredient inhibit the production of prostaglandins, and therefore inflammation and pain. As with any drug, it pays to be informed about how and when take it, when to stop taking it and how it works to relieve pain.

4. Aleve

Aleve is an NSAID that can be used to relieve pain and decrease inflammation. Naproxen, its active ingredient, can also be obtained via prescription. Research shows that naproxen is effective in reducing the pain, tenderness, swelling and stiffness experienced by people with both inflammatory and non-inflammatory arthritis. This includes osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. People with back pain can also use Aleve for muscle strain and other ailments. Aleve works largely by inhibiting the formation of prostaglandins. As an NSAID, side effects of Aleve could include stomach problems and cardiovascular events, both of which could be very serious.

5. Do You Know What To Take and How to Take It?

Now that you've know about the over-the-counter choices you have for your back or neck pain, you can quiz yourself to be sure you understand risks for side effects and safety, along with dosage info. If you do this before you walk into the drugstore, you'll be glad!
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How to Choose Pain Medication
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  6. Over the Counter Pain Medications for Back Pain - OTC Pain Med Drugs for Back Pain

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