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Comparing Common Over-The-Counter Pain Medications

By May 15, 2019November 17th, 2022No Comments

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Over-the-counter pain medications can help you go about your day without worrying about pain. Be it a headache, joint and bone pain, a rough abrasion, or any other type of mild or moderate pain, these medications can clear them away with few or no side effects. However, with so many different choices, you might ask, “What makes one medication better than another?” Take a look at the pros and cons of some of the most common non-prescription pain remedies in the United States and decide for yourself.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

Acetaminophen, commonly known by the brand name Tylenol, is one of the most widely used painkillers in the country. Available in capsules, tablets, and even alternative rectal and IV administration routes, acetaminophen is a versatile and inexpensive choice available at supermarkets and drug stores across the country.

Unlike most other non-prescription pain medications, acetaminophen is not a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), meaning it does not act as a blood thinner and has fewer side effects. This property may be important for individuals with certain medical conditions.

Like NSAIDs, however, acetaminophen can also act as a fever reducer. Standard dosages are up to 500mg every six hours, with a maximum of 3000-4000mg per day being safe, depending on your body size. However, for more severe pain, these dosages may not be sufficient on their own.

Ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil)

Ibuprofen is a slightly stronger pain reliever, but can have some additional side effects. Like acetaminophen, ibuprofen can be administered via many routes and is available on store shelves nationwide. Usual doses are 200-400mg per dose every 4-6 hours as needed, with higher doses up to 800mg or beyond sometimes being prescribed for injuries in place of more potent medications such as opioids.

If you find that your pain cannot be relieved by a dosage of 400mg every 4 hours with a maximum of 1200mg per day, ask a doctor about higher dosages. Ibuprofen is an NSAID, meaning it can have severe side effects for individuals with certain medical conditions, including hypertension and other cardiovascular conditions.

Some companies may also mix ibuprofen with prescription or non-prescription pain medications to achieve higher potency, potentially adding additional side effects. Make sure to read the warning label on any products you purchase.


Like ibuprofen, aspirin is an NSAID, but with a different chemical makeup and different side effects. While the impact on cardiovascular conditions may be lower with aspirin, it can also cause a slew of other side effects, including stomach ulcers and a more severe impact on asthmatic individuals.

Aspirin is also a much stronger blood thinner, which can be beneficial for many heart conditions (causing it to be prescribed for them separately from pain medications), but also dangerous for individuals already taking other medications with similar effects. Aspirin can be taken safely in significantly higher dosages than ibuprofen, with up to 4000mg per day and doses of 300-1000mg every 4-6 hours being safe for long-term use in most individuals.


Taking over-the-counter pain medication is important to go about your daily life without worrying about minor pains and troubles. For long-term pain, many experts recommend alternating doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen to minimize side effects while still providing sufficient pain relief. Make sure to read directions and warning labels on any medications you purchase and ask a doctor if you feel that you may need higher dosages.

If your issues persist and you are interested in interventional pain management, visit Dr. Michael Mckee at Spine Care of San Antonio for further treatment.