Understanding pain

What you need to know about pain relief

Here we explain how different types of pain relief products work, to help you choose the best one for your pain. 

Types of pain relief

Drugs are available to relieve pain caused by headaches, sore or aching muscles or joints. There are different types of pain medications to choose from, and some types of pain respond better to certain treatments than others. Therefore, it is important to make the right choice to treat your pain effectively. Each has their own pros and cons, but there are experts to help you choose an effective type of pain relief for your condition. The first place to seek advice is your pharmacist. They are experts and can often help you to find a treatment for your pain.

OTC (over-the-counter) therapies, which are sold without a prescription from a doctor, are typically used to relieve acute mild to moderate pain. Medications prescribed by your doctor generally provide higher strength pain relief. Any pain relief treatment should only be used as directed on the product leaflet and/or by your doctor or pharmacist.
While many pain relievers contain medicines that help to reduce pain and inflammation, there are also non-medicated products that contain no active ingredients. These usually work by heating or cooling the affected area to soothe pain and reduce swelling.

*congenital insensitivity to pain - Genetics Home Reference. 2016. congenital insensitivity to pain - Genetics Home Reference. [ONLINE] Available at: https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/congenital-insensitivity-to-pain.

Older couple smiling and laughing


Some people are born with a condition called congenital analgesia, which means they can’t feel physical pain.*


Acetaminophen (paracetamol) is an analgesic that relieves pain and reduces fever by affecting the parts of the brain that receive pain messages and control the body’s temperature. In essence, your brain doesn’t register the pain being sent from damaged areas of your body.
Acetaminophen can be bought from a pharmacy, although it can be prescribed by a doctor in stronger doses. Acetaminophen is an active ingredient found in many OTC and prescription medicines – not just pain relievers, but cough and cold medications as well. In an OTC form, it has been shown to be effective for people who have mild to severe pain.

40% of people with pain don’t know what to take for their pain

Non-medicated treatments

There are also many non-medicated treatments that may aid with pain relief. Most of these work via heating and/or cooling the affected area or joint. Pain relief by heat works by increasing the blood flow to the area where you feel pain, for example on your back if you are suffering from back ache. It can also relax the muscles in that affected area.

Cold, on the other hand, works by affecting large nerve fibres, temporarily numbing the pain sensations that are transmitted to the smaller nerve fibres. Cold can reduce swelling and inflammation by contracting the blood vessels (a process called vasoconstriction). It is often recommended that you ice sports injuries, such as ankle or knee strains and sprains, to help reduce swelling.

*Haleon Global Pain Index Report 2014

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