Medications are often used to treat acute and chronic orthopedic injuries. Effective pain relief may involve a combination of prescription drugs and over-the-counter remedies. Certain medicines, even those sold over the counter, are unsafe during pregnancy, may conflict with other medications, may cause side effects including drowsiness, or may lead to liver damage. Be sure to consult with your provider before combining any over-the-counter remedies with prescription medications.
Over-the-counter analgesics, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen, can be taken orally to reduce stiffness, swelling, and inflammation and to ease mild to moderate pain. Counter-irritants applied topically to the skin as a cream or spray stimulate the nerve endings in the skin to provide feelings of warmth or cold and dull the sense of pain. Topical analgesics can also reduce inflammation and stimulate blood flow. Many of these compounds contain salicylates, the same ingredient found in oral pain medications containing aspirin.
Anticonvulsants, which are drugs used primarily to treat seizures, can be useful in treating certain types of nerve pain and may also be prescribed in combination with analgesics.
Some antidepressants, particularly tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline and desipramine, have been shown to relieve pain and assist with sleep. Antidepressants alter levels of brain chemicals to elevate mood and dull pain signals.
Medications known as opioids such as codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine are often prescribed to manage severe acute and chronic pain, but should be used only for a short period of time and under a provider’s supervision. Side effects can include drowsiness, decreased reaction time, impaired judgment, and potential for addiction.
Many opioid analgesics are combined with acetaminophen in a prescription form. Combining these medications with over-the-counter acetaminophen can lead to dangerous complications.