Pain Treatment Medications

Pain medications exist to help treat numerous sources of pain, from the occasional headache to arthritis and bone conditions to cuts, scrapes and breaks. While some aches and pains can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications, including ibuprofen and acetaminophen, other sources of pain require prescription pain medications.

Over-the-counter pain medications include the following, among others:

  • acetaminophen
  • aspirin
  • cortisone.

Prescription pain medications include:

  • certain NSAIDs
  • COX-2 inhibitors
  • Vicodin®.

No matter which pain medication you use, you should discuss its potential side effects with your doctor or pharmacist. In addition, you should always take your pain medication as advised and never take more than the recommended dosage. While some pain medication side effects are minor, some can be life-threatening.

In this section, we’ll discuss a number of pain medications. We’ll offer information on opioids, COX-2 inhibitors and more. We’ll also offer the pros and cons, costs and effectiveness of each pain medication.


An opioid is a chemical substance that is often used for pain relief. It produces a morphine-like action in the body by binding to opioid receptors in the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract.

Opioids can be divided into four categories:

  • endogenous opioid peptides (which are naturally produced in the body)
  • fully synthetic opioids (methadone, fentanyl, etc.)
  • opiates (morphine, codeine, heroin, etc.)
  • semi-synthetic opioids (opioids create from natural opioids).

Opioids have a long history of treating acute pain, such as pain that occurs following surgery. However, opioids have also been found to alleviate chronic pain, such as pain that results from terminal diseases, including some forms of cancer.

Side effects of opioids include:

  • constipation
  • drowsiness
  • nausea
  • vomiting.

Depression, confusion and hallucination can also be caused by the use of opioids.

COX-2 Inhibitors

COX-2 inhibitors are typically prescribed for pain relief from such conditions as:

  • menstrual pain
  • osteoarthritis
  • rheumatoid arthritis.

In some studies, COX-2 inhibitors have been shown to produce less stomach bleeding and ulcer formation in patients than non-selective non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) pain relievers, such as Advil® (ibuprofen) or Naprosyn® (naproxen).

As COX-2 inhibitors have been linked with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, both physicians and patients should weigh the risks and benefits of COX-2 inhibitors. While some people are considered good candidates for COX-2 inhibitors, others, including those with heart problems, should not take COX-2 inhibitors.


Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, are used to relieve pain, inflammation and fever. Some of the more popular NSAIDs include:

  • diclofenac (Cataflam®, Voltaren®, Voltaren®-XR)
  • ibuprofen (Advil®, Midol®, Motrin®, Nuprin®)
  • naproxen (Aleve®, Anaprox®, Naprelan®, Naprosyn®).

While NSAIDs are popular pain medications, they do carry some risks. For example, the main risk of prolonged use of naproxen and ibuprofen is stomach ulcers. Other common side effects of NSAIDs include:

  • abdominal or stomach cramps
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • heartburn
  • indigestion
  • lightheadedness
  • mild to moderate headache
  • mild to moderate pain or discomfort
  • nausea
  • vomiting.

If you take NSAIDs on a regular basis, consult your doctor about any potential health risks. Also, follow dosage instructions when taking NSAIDs.


morefocus group, inc. (updated 2007). Safety Concerns Over Naproxen and Other NSAIDs. Retrieved Sept. 5, 2007, from the More Focus on Health: Gastrointestinal Tract Web site:

morefocus group, inc. (updated 2007). Serious Cardiovascular Risk for Persons Taking COX-2 Inhibitors. Retrieved Sept. 5, 2007, from the More Focus on Health: Gastrointestinal Tract Web site: