Medicines used to control mild pain include paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These types of drugs are excellent at relieving certain types of pain, such as bone pain, muscle pain, and pain in the skin or the lining of the mouth.
They can also be used with stronger pain medicines to help relieve moderate to severe pain.
Paracetamol is a common drug that comes in many different formulations and is known by various brand names such as Panadol and Panamax. It’s recommended that an adult have no more than 4 g of paracetamol a day (usually 8 tablets) unless approved by their doctor. The dose limit for children depends on their age and weight, so check with the doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
Some combination pain relievers, such as Panadeine Forte®, contain paracetamol and count towards your total intake. If taken within the recommended dose, paracetamol is unlikely to cause side effects. In some cases, taking paracetamol together with other pain medicines, such as oxycodone, helps them work better.
"I could not believe how much better I felt after taking some pain relief. Everything seemed less stressful and I did not feel so angry and upset all the time. I had resisted taking anything for so long. I thought I should be able to handle the pain. I now wish I had taken something sooner." – Bill
NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, celecoxib, diclofenac and aspirin, vary in dose, frequency of dose and side effects.
You can have these medicines as a tablet or injection. Less commonly, NSAIDs are given as a suppository – a capsule inserted into the rectum.
Some NSAIDs are available over-the-counter from pharmacies without a prescription.
In some people, NSAIDs can cause indigestion or stomach ulcers, increase the risk of bleeding in the stomach or intestines, and reduce kidney function.
Some studies show that NSAIDs can lead to heart (cardiac) problems, especially with long-term use or in people who already have cardiac problems.
Talk to your doctor or nurse before taking NSAIDs, especially if you have had stomach ulcers, heart disease, kidney disease or gut reflux, are having chemotherapy or are taking other medicines (such as anticoagulants/blood thinners like warfarin) that also increase your risk of bleeding. It’s generally recommended that you take ibuprofen with food to lower the risk of indigestion. You may be given other medicine that is less likely to cause indigestion and bleeding, such as celecoxib (another type of NSAID) or paracetamol.
Reviewed by: Dr Melanie Lovell, Clinical Ass Prof, Medicine, Northern Clinical School, Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, and Palliative Medicine Consultant Physician, Greenwich Hospital, NSW; Nathaniel Alexander, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW, NSW; Anne Booms, Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Dr Roger Goucke, Consultant, Department of Pain Management, Specialist Pain Medicine Physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, and Clinical Ass Prof, School of Medicine and Pharmacology, University of Western Australia, WA; John Marane, Consumer; and Dr Jane Trinca, Director, Barbara Walker Centre for Pain Management, St Vincent’s Hospital, VIC.