How Do Pain Relievers Work?

You might take pain killers for several reasons, whether it is prescription or non-prescription. But have you ever wondered how these pain killers work in your body? Or have you thought about why there are different types of pain killers available in the market?

There is a lot of information that you need to understand about pain managing medicines. This is why we have mentioned some of the important aspects of pain medications that you need to know. Read the article to learn about types of pain medications, what they do in your body, and what conditions need pain killers. So, let’s discuss them. 

What are Pain Relievers?

These are medicines that give you relief from pain. You can find many pain relievers in the medicinal world. Not to mention, all of these pain killers come under different brand names. 

You can take these medicines:

• By injection

• Orally, as tablets, capsules, and liquids

• By back passage (rectum)

Some pain managing medicines are available in the form of ointments, creams, or patches. Although there is a wide range of medicines available, you can find three main types that are effective for different pains and works in different ways.

Let’s discuss the types of pain managing medicines.


NSAIDs or Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are common and most prescribed pain-relieving medicines to resolve pains related to different health conditions like arthritis. You may be already familiar with non-prescription, over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin. 

These medicines are not only pain relievers, but they also lower fever and reduce inflammation. These medications are also helpful in preventing blood clotting, which is necessary in some cases and harmful in others. 

For instance, as they lower the blood clotting action, some NSAIDs such as aspirin can benefit heart diseases. But unfortunately, heart patients can get bruises more easily. These medications also increase the risk of upsetting the stomach, developing nausea, and causing ulcer problems. Additionally, some people may also struggle due to its effect on kidney function. 

Some common examples of NSAIDs include diclofenac and naproxen. Doctors typically prescribe NSAIDs in low doses to limit their blood clotting properties, especially for those who have experienced a heart attack in the past. 


It is also one of the most known and common painkillers to reduce pain and aches. These medications also work best to reduce high temperatures. 

Paracetamol is usually combined with other pain relievers and anti-sickness medicines. This medication is the best solution to resolve a wide range of flue and cold health conditions. Some doctors also suggest you use this medication in small doses while breastfeeding and in pregnancy. 

You can find the paracetamol under brand names Panadol, Medinol, Hedex, and Disprol.


Sometimes opioids are called narcotics. These are medications that doctors prescribe to resolve severe and persistent pain. Generally, patients with chronic backaches and headaches need to take opioids. Patients experiencing chronic pain because of cancer or recovering from surgery are also suggested to use opioids. Health providers also prescribe these medications to children and adults injured by playing sports or who have experienced serious auto accidents, falls, and other incidents. 

There are two types of opioids, strong and weak. Some common weak opioids are dihydrocodeine and codeine. Examples of strong opioids include tramadol, pethidine, morphine, and oxycodone. Both of these opioids can cause adverse impacts if you take them without a doctor’s consultation. 

Different types of pain managing medicine can be combined to make one tablet, such as paracetamol plus codeine (co-codamol). Apart from the mentioned medicines, some antiepileptic and antidepressants treatments also help to treat neuropathic pain. 

How do Pain Relievers Work?

All the mentioned types of painkillers work in different ways. They use different approaches to treat your pain. It is important to note that not every medication can treat every type of pain. This is why it is essential to consult a doctor to prescribe you the right medicine. 


When it comes to NSAIDs, they block or inhibit the effect of enzymes or chemicals known as cyclo-oxygenase (COX) enzymes. These chemicals help to develop other enzymes known as prostaglandins. This chemical is involved in the development of inflammation and pain at the spot of damage or injury. This way, the decline of prostaglandin production reduces both inflammation and pain. However, it is essential to note that not every type of NSAID works similarly. 


No one knows the exact process and effects of paracetamol in your body. But paracetamol is considered to work by inhibiting COX enzymes in the central nervous system (spinal cord) and brain. You also need to know that this medication is only beneficial to lower high temperature, treat pain, and resolve inflammation. 


Opioids bind with a kind of receptors known as opioid receptors present on your gut, central nervous system, and other parts of your body. This decreases your reaction towards pain and the way you feel pain. Furthermore, it also improves your pain tolerance. 

What Conditions Need Pain Relievers?

We have already discussed, health providers prescribe painkillers in conditions like surgical procedures and injuries. You might know that pain medications, also called analgesics, are among the most used drugs in the US. Doctors prescribe different pain relievers depending on the intensity and type of pain. In the case of minor problems, such as headaches or muscle sprains, over-the-counter (OTC) pain killers can be beneficial for you. 

Prescription pain killers such as opiate analgesics can be helpful to treat moderate to severe pain, such as in cases of trauma, surgery, and in particular chronic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or cancer. Other painful conditions for which you can use painkillers include back pain, labor, urinary tract infections, and fibromyalgia. 

Managing Pain Medications Side Effects

Pain medication has some side effects. But you don’t need to worry about it, as doctors have alternative treatments to overcome the impact of medicines on your body. The following are some side effects that you may experience. 


Constipation is the common side effect that occurs after taking opioids. However, if you improve your diet and start consuming fluids and dietary fibers and perform moderate exercise, it can help you significantly. Stool softeners or laxatives may also help in constipation. 


Vomiting and nausea can occur in the first two days following the consumption of opioids. If you experience this problem, it’s better to consult a doctor as soon as possible. They may prescribe you anti-nausea therapies to treat your problem. 

Drowsiness, Sedation, or Clouded Thinking

Some painkillers can cause drowsiness, sedation, or sleepiness for the first two days after taking the dose. Patients may also feel disoriented, confused, or absentminded after taking pain management medications. If you experience this problem, tell your health provider immediately. They may reduce your dose, add another drug, or change your medicine. 

Slow Breathing

When a patient takes high doses of the pain reliever, they may have to face breathing problems. But this side effect resolves when the body becomes habitual to the medication. Because of this possible problem, doctors monitor patients when they are admitted to the hospital. Moreover, if the issue doesn’t get resolved and becomes highly uncomfortable, doctors may change your medicine, especially in cancer patients. 

Other Pain Treatments

Alternative pain treatments can help you treat topical pain. Lidocaine patch is one of the topical pain relief methods, which is a prescription medication. 

Additionally, if you don’t recover from the usual treatments, your health provider may suggest you visit a pain management specialist. Health providers who have specialization in pain management can try other methods like some types of physical therapies or different types of medication. Some doctors also suggest TENS, a technique that involves signals to prevent pain through placing patches in your body. 

SCS or spinal cord stimulation includes a small device similar to a pacemaker. A health professional will place it near the epidural space adjacent to the area of the spine. This device sends minor electric pulses so that they can interrupt the pain signals that reach to brain. 

Bottom Line

So, now you know how different pain relievers work. Although some of the pain killers are safe to use without a prescription, it is best to consult a health provider before taking any medicine. This is because a health professional can diagnose your medical conditions and recommend treatments that are best for your situation. It is also important to note that if you consume specific types of pain killers for a longer period, they can cause adverse side effects. Because of all these reasons, find the best health professional in your town and visit them for better and quick treatment.