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Pain Medications Medical Uses And Guidelines

Last Updated: April 15, 2024

Authored by Roger Weiss, MD

Reviewed by David Levin

Painkillers are used to attenuate/eliminate various sorts of aches. For example, some pain meds have a specific usage as medications for chronic pain. On the other hand, many products are used as severe pain medication, which relieves acute, intense aches.

The increased cases of painkillers abuse and overdoses encouraged the inauguration of the new pain medication laws, which limit and control the use of narcotic painkillers. While many opioid pain medications are rather efficient in soothing physical discomfort, non-opiate pain medication for severe pain is also an option. This is why many people started to look for pain management techniques without medication. However, choosing natural alternatives should also be monitored by a medical specialist. 

Below, types of drugs corresponding to various kinds of ache will be described. Bear in mind that these are generalizations that hold true for an average patient.

Medications For Fibromyalgia Pain

Narcotic pain meds for fibromyalgia usually affect serotonergic and norepinephrine neurotransmitter systems, thereby relieving suffering. Most common fibromyalgia pain medications are Cymbalta and Savella, which are antidepressants. Using Lyrica, an anti-seizure drug, won’t help with intense aches, so doctors most likely would prescribe taking Cymbalta and Savella, especially for people who have co-occurring depression.

Patients sometimes use over the counter pain meds as remedies for fibromyalgia pain. While these don’t affect the nervous system the same way standard pain meds for fibromyalgia do, they might as well help. Fibromyalgia is a severe health condition, and only a doctor can select and prescribe the drugs for this type of aches.

Nerve Pain Medications

Nerve pain medication list is extremely long, as there are many nerve pain medications which affect the human body, depending on the type of nerve aches. For instance, sciatic nerve pain prescription medication relaxes muscles, while people with low back discomfort use antidepressants.

  • Injecting corticosteroids is a rare alternative for the treatment of the sciatic symptoms.
  • The main neuropathic painkiller, Amitriptyline, is also an antidepressant.
  • Immunosuppressants and immunoglobulin usage may relieve suffering linked with neuropathy.
  • The use of anti-inflammatory drugs (steroids) might prove helpful for some rare types of neuropathy.

Other painkillers and medications for nerve pain, like ibuprofen and paracetamol, won’t eliminate symptoms of neuropathy. However, ibuprofen and aspirin can act as pinched nerve pain medications. Note that aspirin is a blood thinner, and enhances the effect of specific blood thinner drugs (anticoagulants) such as warfarin and heparin. What kind of pain medication can one take with blood thinners? If one has problems with wounds that won’t heal, it’s advised to stop the usage of aspirin and replace it for Tylenol. However, even when proceeded with Tylenol use, a doctor should be consulted.

woman needs nerve pain medications

Diabetic Nerve Painkillers

While there is no standard diabetic nerve pain medication, usage of antidepressants like Tofranil and Norpramin is often recommended for people with diabetes. They also use anti-seizure painkillers like Gralise and Nerothin as meds for diabetic nerve pain. While patients with diabetes sometimes use botulinum toxin, Tramadol (opioid), and Trileptal (anti-seizure drug), these drugs are unlikely to relieve discomfort, at least not on their own significantly.

Medications For Nerve Pain In Legs 

Leg ache is a rather common affliction, and most people successfully treat this condition with the use of acetaminophen, a common over the counter drug. Ibuprofen is another common medication for nerve pain in the legs.

Shingles Nerve Pain Medications

Patients with shingles often use over the counter medications like Naproxen and acetaminophen, which are common medications for nerve pain in general. Capsaicin cream is also sometimes prescribed as a medication for shingles nerve pain. Another numbing medicine (Lidoderm or Xylocaine) and various antidepressants are often used as pain meds for shingles. Antibiotics might also prove helpful, but only if a bacterial infection is the cause of shingles, and if a medical specialist gives a consent.

Back Pain Medications

Back pain is caused by numerous, often unrelated factors, and many remedies are used to treat this health condition. As a result, only a professional can choose the best medicine.

  • Creams and ointments that are rubbed onto the skin are commonly used as a painkiller for back problems, and they are “the first line of defense” against back problems.
  • The use of muscle relaxants will remedy more intense and acute cases, while the usage of anti-inflammatory injections is only advised as the “last resort”.
  • Cortisone (an anti-inflammatory drug) is used as a lower back pain medication, especially when aches radiate down the legs.
  • Ibuprofen is another painkiller for back pain, especially for acute suffering.

Chronic back pain painkiller list includes many remedies used to treat various psychological disorders, such as antidepressants (especially tricyclic ones, like Amitriptyline). While acute back problems are relieved by the use of opioid drugs, the usage of these drugs is not recommended for chronic soothing discomfort. Why do people get addicted to painkillers when they use it to treat backaches? One of the reasons is, quite often, because they use opioid painkillers for this purpose. Opioid drugs are efficient, but if their usage is too frequent, the doctor may start to notice signs of addiction to pain meds.

People who experience intense migraines may find a triptan, powerful pain medication for migraines, quite helpful. Over the counter painkillers like Advil and Aleve, and prescription drugs like Naprosyn are common pain meds for headaches.

woman needs Painkillers For Headache

The usage of opiates to relieve symptoms of chronic migraines might lead to dependency and adverse reactions (like high on painkillers), which is why these drugs are rarely used as a sole means to battle chronic headaches.

Toothache Painkillers

  • People with toothaches are often advised to use Ibuprofen, one of the most frequent toothache painkillers.
  • Those who are allergic to aspirin can use Paracetamol, another powerful pain medication for toothache.
  • Strongest over the counter pain medications for toothache contain codeine (opioid) and acetaminophen.
  • Patients often use Oracort and Oralone as wisdom tooth pain medication, due to the anti-inflammatory properties of these substances.
  • Anesthetics such as Anbesol and Orajel have their usage in the world of dentistry, but they cannot treat chronic toothache.

Arthritis Painkillers

  • For mild to moderate arthritis symptoms, the use of Tylenol (or other over the counter painkillers) may come as an appropriate remedy.
  • Other remedies containing acetaminophen are also good arthritis pain medications.
  • Tramadol and oxycodone are more powerful arthritis pain-relief medication, but their usage necessitates special care.
  • Other efficient pain medications for arthritis are various non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like Motrin and Advil.
  • The use of corticosteroid joint pain medication (Cortef) is sometimes warranted, especially in patients who are unresponsive to other types of substances.
  • It is also possible to use counterirritants (containing menthol or capsaicin) as medication for joint pain, which are “the first line of defense” against milder arthritis symptoms. These medications are the most suitable if a patient needs arthritis pain medication that does not affect the liver.

Remedies containing acetaminophen (Tylenol) can act as osteoarthritis painkillers, but these substances are only analgesics, and won’t help with swelling. Quite frequently, doctors recommend the use of Celebrex as a knee pain prescription medication. Feldene is another popular knee pain medication, especially when significant swelling appears.

Stomach Pain Medications

In case of having stomach problems, taking too many painkillers can actually worsen the efficiency of the digestive system. On the other hand, Imodium and Kaopectate can be effective meds for stomach pain, especially when diarrhea is involved.

When patients have other types of stomach problems, standard over the counter analgesic that contains acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be used as a stomach pain medication.

Topical preparations (creams, ointments) won’t help as they only affect the surface of the body, which is why a doctor might advise the usage of other types of painkillers.

man needs Stomach Pain Medications

Kidney Stones Painkillers

Although pain meds for kidney stones like Aleve or Advil won’t get a kidney stone out, it is possible to use them to relieve acute suffering. The usage of pain medication for kidney stones can help with passing the stone with the least discomfort possible.

UTI Pain Medications

Tylenol and Motrin are often used as painkillers for UTI pain. Phenazopyridine is one of the most popular painkillers for UTI, which is usually purchased without a prescription. Note that these drugs will get rid of aches, but they won’t cure the main cause of urinary tract infections, as only antibiotics can do this.

Painkillers For Cramps

There are many pain meds for cramps, such as acetaminophen, an analgesic, or ibuprofen, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Women with menstrual cramps can use other NSAIDs as painkillers for menstrual cramps, for example, aspirin. The usage of these painkillers for period cramps can begin 1 to 2 days before the period.

As some women experience menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) on a regular basis, it’s recommended for them to use some drug-free alternatives, like Livia. It’s always advised to consult a doctor to find the most suitable medication. 

Pain Medications After Surgery

Pain meds after surgery are often obligatory as significant discomfort may persist for months after surgery. There is no universal pain medication after surgery, but they are usually employed for the treatment of acute and intense suffering. The most appropriate painkiller to use after surgery depends on the exact type of surgery and health condition. For example, the usage of local anesthetics is advised when more superficial damage is involved.

List of analgesics used after surgery, most commonly after “hard” operations:

  • Oxycontin (opioid)
  • Roxicodone (opioid)
  • Percocet (Oxycodone and Acetaminophen)
  • Lidocaine (local anesthetic)

As it’s most often the case, over the counter NSAIDs can be used to treat any discomfort that persists after surgery.

Analgesics For Labor

Opiate analgesics for labor, like morphine, are frequently used to relieve intense childbirth suffering. Pain medication for labor is often injected by the epidural procedure, which might be an unpleasant procedure on its own.

On the other hand, aspirin should be avoided, especially in the third trimester. Aspirin acts as a blood thinner, which means that it will cause excessive bleeding during labor. Conversely, very low doses of aspirin may actually prove to be beneficial.

Narcotic pain medication during pregnancy differs from pain medication during labor. During pregnancy, chronic aches can be relieved by acetaminophen, an option which pregnant women use during all three trimesters, upon consulting their doctors.

woman needs pain medications for labor

Pain Medications For Children

Acetaminophen, one of the most frequent over the counter drugs, is an efficient pain medication for children. The use of this painkiller is recommended for moderate aches that appear as symptoms of common cold and flu. Similarly, codeine, another substance often found in drugs for children, can be used by kid over the age of 12. Individuals who are still not above 19 years old are advised to avoid aspirin use.

Safe Use Of Pain Medications

It’s not enough to simply use the right painkiller, as there are a lot of factors that come into play. The right timing, amount, and frequency of usage are also crucial. To get these factors right, patients should first consult their physicians or other medical specialists. 

How to ask a doctor for pain medication, which will help with certain pain without side effects? The doctor must have all the necessary information like patients’ allergies, current health status, etc.

When necessary, individuals with substance abuse disorder can spend some time in rehabilitation centers that often have an all-encompassing approach. How long does pain medication stay in system, and will therapy and rehabilitation help with eliminating it? Some pain medications stay in the system for longer periods and proper rehabilitation program will help to remove such drugs from the body in a safe way, even if painkillers was abused together with other substances.

Special attention should be paid to the painkillers’ expiration date. Ingesting expired painkillers might lead to serious health complications. If any unwanted effects are noticed after consuming painkillers, call an emergency helpline immediately. The same applies to people who combine analgesics with alcohol. Painkillers and alcohol side effects can be severe and life-threatening.

Page Sources

  1. Diana S Meske, Oluwadolapo D Lawal, Harrison Elder, Valerie Langberg, Florence Paillard, and Nathaniel Katz. Efficacy of opioids versus placebo in chronic pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of enriched enrollment randomized withdrawal trials. 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5939920/
  2. Michelle Brubaker. Aspirin Versus Blood Thinners in Atrial Fibrillation Patients with Stroke Risk. US San Diego Health Press Release. 2016. https://health.ucsd.edu/news/releases/Pages/2016-06-20-aspirin-versus-blood-thinners-in-afib-patients.aspx
  3. Schiff E, Mashiach S. The use of low dose aspirin in pregnancy. 1992. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1285867

Published on: September 25th, 2019

Updated on: April 15th, 2024

About Author

Roger Weiss, MD

Dr. Roger Weiss is a practicing mental health specialist at the hospital. Dr. Weiss combines his clinical practice and medical writing career since 2009. Apart from these activities, Dr. Weiss also delivers lectures for youth, former addicts, and everyone interested in topics such as substance abuse and treatment.

Medically Reviewed by

David Levin


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