Best and Worst Pain Medicines

These days, when we experience any sort of physical pain, we have a natural expectation that it can be cured. This is because modern medicine has done some amazing things for mankind, and one of the most relevant achievements (to our daily lives at least) is its ability to address our aches and pains.

Yet more than occasionally, we find that the painkillers we put our trust in end up failing us. A new study of over 30,000 patients has attempted to find the best and worst painkillers for various situations, and the results may surprise you. Discussed below are the findings and what they mean.




One of the most startling implications of the study was that no single pain medication provided relief for everyone, but the “best” did work for 70% of the patients. In stark contrast, the “worst” or least effective medication only provided relief for less than 15% of those studied. While the patients studied were all recovering after some type of surgery (mild to severe), the findings can be applied to any sort of pain (i.e. non surgery related).

The drugs studied were of three types. The three drugs are NSAID pain relievers such as ibuprofen, analgesics (weaker opioids such as codeine) and more powerful opioids such as oxycodone. Additionally, the study evaluated paracetamol, which is quickly becoming one of the most widely used drugs in the world. Of these, only paracetamol and NSAIDs such as ibuprofen are widely available over the counter.

Best Pain Medicines

The study found that patients experiencing moderate to severe pain experienced the best levels of pain relief when they were given a combination of paracetamol and ibuprofen. When taken separately, however, these drugs were significantly less effective on their own.
This seems to mean that a combination of the two at smaller doses works about twice as well as either taken at a high dosage. In fact, the study concluded that over 45 different combinations of drugs were at least somewhat effective.

Worst Pain Medicines

The study found that individuals who received just 500mg of aspirin or 5mg of oxycodone after surgery experienced no more pain relief than individuals who were just given a placebo. Only 14% of those experiencing pain achieved some level of relief through codeine, which was the lowest amount of relief from the drugs that were deemed at least somewhat effective. Many of the other drugs studied provided inconclusive results that varied widely from individual to individual and group to group.


What this seems to mean is that those experiencing pain (often regardless of the level) should begin with a combination of safer drugs such as NSAIDs and paracetamol. If these do not work or fail to provide the necessary level of relief, you should consult with your primary care physician to determine what you should use based on your drug allergies and particular types of pain.

The most interesting result of the study is that the more serious pain medications that are available on a prescription only basis may not be superior to their over the counter cousins.

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