Pain relief medications

The pain medication you need depends on the severity of your pain and what’s causing it. The experience of pain is very individual, so it’s important to find a treatment that works for you.

Pain relieving medications can come in the form of:

  • a tablet, either swallowed, or dissolved in water or under the tongue
  • liquid solutions
  • skin patches
  • skin gels
  • suppositories

One may find one method suits you better.

Some medication can be bought in supermarkets, but some are only available on prescription. If you're in pain and non-prescription medications aren't working for you, speak to your doctor about your pain. They can assess your pain, and work out the best treatment for you.

For mild pain

You can buy paracetamol over the counter as:

  • tablets
  • capsules
  • dissolvable tablets

You can usually take one to two tablets every four to six hours, up to a maximum of eight tablets in 24 hours.

If you have a history of liver problems, talk to your doctor before taking paracetamol.

Ibuprofen can reduce inflammation as well as pain. It’s available over the counter as:

  • tablets
  • capsules
  • gels
  • creams

Ask your doctor or pharmacist before taking ibuprofen if you have:

  • asthma
  • kidney problems
  • stomach problems
  • heart problems

You should always take ibuprofen with food, and use only for a few days, unless your doctor advises otherwise.

For moderate pain

If you have stronger pain, you can try codeine, dihydrocodeine and Tramadol. These can also be combined with paracetamol, such as Co-codamol, Co-dydramol and Tramacet.

Co-codamol combines paracetamol and codeine and comes in different strengths. Your doctor can help you decide which dose is suitable to treat your pain. Low-strength tablets are available from the pharmacy, whereas larger doses require a prescription.

If tablets are not suitable, you might be prescribed a pain-relieving skin patch such as Bu Trans, which contains buprenorphine. A Bu Trans patch slowly releases a strong pain-relieving medication over several days, which is absorbed through your skin.

Each patch lasts for a week. You can shower, bathe and swim with it in place, but it’s important to avoid direct heat (such as a hot water bottle) near the patch. This might cause your body to absorb more medication than intended.

For severe pain

If your pain is severe, you might be prescribed a strong pain-relieving medication such as morphine.

This can be taken as slow release tablets, liquid preparations or as a medicated skin patch.

Once the pain eases, you may be able to change to a milder drug, such as Co-codamol or Tramadol.

For muscle spasms

In the short term, your doctor may prescribe a muscle relaxing medication, such as diazepam (Valium). However, this isn’t suitable for everyone as it might make you feel sleepy, unsteady and more prone to falls.

If you're experiencing muscle spasms, there are practical things you can do to avoid or cope with spasms.