I'm a Pharmacist, and This Is the Pain Reliever I Recommend


Aches and pains happen to all of us, and when they do, you want fast relief. Yet not all pain relievers are created equally—there are risks and benefits to each. That's why we contacted Tessa Spencer, PharmD, a specialist in functional medicine, to find out which one pain relief product she recommends. She's breaking down the benefits of her top pick, and sharing insights on what to take if your doctor has ruled this option out. Read on to find out the number one pain reliever Spencer recommends over others.

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When it comes to pain relief, there are many products to choose from.

If you've got a headache, sore muscles, arthritis, or other bodily aches and pains, you may decide that a pain reliever is right for you. But with so many options on the market, it can be confusing to find one that suits your needs.

In particular, there are two main groups of over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include Aspirin, Aleve, Advil, and more, and acetaminophen, which includes Tylenol, Excedrin, and others. "Both acetaminophen and NSAIDs reduce fever and relieve pain caused by muscle aches and stiffness, but only NSAIDs can reduce inflammation (swelling and irritation)," explains the American Academy of Family Physicians.

In the event that an OTC medication doesn't work to relieve your pain, your doctor may offer a prescription painkiller. While many prescription options are considered very effective, they can sometimes cause serious side effects or dependence, and should always be taken under the watchful eye of a medical professional.

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This is the number one pain reliever Spencer recommends.

The pain reliever Spencer most often recommends is an over-the-counter NSAID: ibuprofen. She adds that liquid gel capsules are the ideal vehicle for this medication, since they "help decrease the time it takes to start working." Advil Liqui-Gels are among the most popularly sold medications of this type.

Spencer says this product has earned her trust since its "been around for a long time and the mechanism of action is fantastic for treating both muscle and joint pain, as well as swelling, and headaches." However, she notes that you should always take ibuprofen with food "as it can be harsh on your stomach's lining and can cause stomach upset or irritation if you take it on an empty stomach."

Take this alternative if you have certain underlying conditions.

Because every decision regarding medication is specific to the patient, Spencer notes that some people may require an alternative to ibuprofen. "Choosing the 'right' pain reliever does depend on patient characteristics and preferences. For example, if someone has a history of chronic kidney disease or is taking medication that thins the blood, they should not take ibuprofen," she warns.

Instead, she recommends naproxen (commonly branded as Aleve) for patients who have a history of heart disease or chronic kidney disease, as well as for patients who need longer term pain relief. "It's important to discuss with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before you take any over the counter pain reliever," especially if you have a history of chronic illness, Spencer says.

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This supplement may offer natural pain relief.

Finally, Spencer adds that there are natural ways to relieve pain, which may be useful in the place of or in addition to an over-the-counter pain reliever.

"If someone wants to opt in for a more 'natural' pain reliever, turmeric with a pinch of black pepper could be a good option," she says, noting the combination's anti-inflammatory benefits. "However, you need to make sure you buy a product that is a standardized extract, 95 percent pure so you can make sure what is in the turmeric capsule is actually pure turmeric," Spencer advises.

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.