Types of pain medication

If you’ve ever had a sore back or a nagging headache, you’ve probably turned to pain medication for relief.

Pain medication, also called painkillers, can either be prescribed by a physician or purchased over the counter at a pharmacy. These medications are available in a variety of different dosages and are often in pill form. Pain medication also comes in the form of topical creams or sprays that are applied to the skin to alleviate pain from sore muscles, arthritic pain and other local pain.


Over-the-counter medication is any medication that can be purchased without a prescription. These medications are widely used to treat minor aches and pains in the short term. Three of the most common forms of over-the-counter pain medication are acetaminophen, aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

  • Acetaminophen — reduces pain and fever but is not a strong anti-inflammatory. Acetaminophen (trade name Tylenol) is usually not recommended for arthritis of the spine or other forms of osteoarthritis, but is effective against mild neck and back pain. Studies have shown that acetaminophen, when used in the correct dose, is among the safest pain medication available. Using more than the recommended dosage of acetaminophen is extremely dangerous and can cause irreversible liver damage.
  • Aspirin — relieves inflammation and pain by blocking the substances that cause them. A related side-effect of aspirin is that it also blocks the production of the protective mucus lining of the stomach. This results in the stomach issues many associate with aspirin.
  • NSAIDs — the most common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) is ibuprofen (trade name Motrin). NSAIDs are effective in combating inflammation, fever and other pains, but are not recommended for long-term use because they can disrupt kidney function, potentially leading to permanent damage. Common examples of NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen (a major ingredient of Advil) and naproxen (a major ingredient of Aleve).


Prescription pain medication refers to medication that can only be purchased with the consent of a physician. Corticosteroids, opioids, and some antidepressants are all common forms of prescription medications that are often effective in treating severe pain, but also carry significant potential side effects.

Certain prescription medications can become habit-forming, such as morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and codeine, so it is extremely important to only take the recommended dosage.

More information

To learn more about the various pain medications currently available, speak with your physician or pharmacist. Pain medication can provide the relief you require, but be sure you fully understand the benefits and risks before beginning any treatment.

When a doctor-prescribed course of conservative treatments, including pain medication, has not returned you to the quality of life you expect, contact Laser Spine Institute. We can review your MRI report or CT scan and find out if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery.