The 8 Best OTC Pain Relievers to Buy in 2018

Nix aches and more with these drugstore solutions

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Ouch. No matter how many healthy choices we make, aches and pains pop up, and usually at the most inconvenient times. They can range from mildly annoying to those that make you want to crawl in a hole (or into bed) until they go away. Fortunately, today there are a host of over-the-counter pain medications, known as analgesics, that can help ease pain and help you get on with your daily activities.

Sifting through those all the available options to best address your needs, however, can be, well, a pain. So we’ve narrowed it down a bit. Whether it’s your back that’s bothering you, a toothache that needs treatment or a hammering pain in your head, there’s an OTC pain reliever that can likely provide temporary relief.

Most pain relievers fall into one of two categories: acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. While both acetaminophen and NSAIDs are designed to help relieve pain and bring fevers down, NSAIDs also address inflammation, so they’re better for the treatment of conditions such as arthritis.

It’s important to note that while these medications are offered over the counter, they also have potential side effects. Be sure to read the labels on each and consult with a professional if you have any concerns. If your pain is persistent, you should consult your health provider to see if it's something more serious.

For occasional aches and pains, here are of the best over-the-counter pain medications to try.

Our Top Picks


Best Overall Pain Reliever: Tylenol Extra Strength Caplets


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If you have just one pain reliever in your medicine cabinet, it’s hard to go wrong with Tylenol. While it comes in a variety of formulas and formats, these extra-strength caplets are a tried-and-true staple that customers swear by and doctors recommend. Each caplet contains 500mg of acetaminophen, which is designed to reduce fever and treat minor aches and pains.

Tylenol tends to be easier on the stomach than NSAIDs. However, it’s important to note the warnings regarding alcohol as acetaminophen can cause liver complications. It’s also not your go-to for pain associated with swelling. For everything else though, including headaches, backaches and beyond, it’s hard to beat.


Best Back Pain Reliever: Aleve Naproxen Caplets - Naproxen Sodium (NSAID)

When it comes to back pain, Aleve has your back. Because it’s a NSAID, it targets inflammation, which is often a contributing factor to back pain. It also is highly recommended for back pain associated with arthritis. One caplet promises relief for up to 12 hours which means fewer pills to pop. The primary ingredient is Naxopren, a powerful pain reliever. The downside to NSAIDs such as Aleve, however, is that they can cause stomach irritation in some people. Make sure to follow the product guidelines and talk to your doctor if you experience any discomfort.

Beyond your back, Aleve can also be used to treat menstrual cramps, toothaches and more. Loyal customers say their medicine cabinet shelves are never without it.


Best Pain Reliever for Headaches: Excedrin Extra Strength Caplets

When it comes to hammering headache pain, customers say nothing provides relief more quickly and more effectively than Excedrin Extra Strength. It contains not only aspirin and acetaminophen, but also caffeine (about as much as one cup of coffee) to help hit your headache with a powerful combination that can provide relief in as little as 15 minutes.

A staple in medicine cabinets for decades, customers say the triple combination works like nothing else when it comes to headaches. Some do note, however, that it’s not the best choice to take at night as the caffeine can interfere with sleep.


Best Pain Reliever for Menstrual Cramps: Pamprin Maximum Strength

Periods can be a pain, quite literally. Fortunately, Pamprin can help ease a host of unpleasant side effects that come with them, including stomach cramps, backaches, headaches, and irritability. It may even help stave off those pounds that seem to pack on each month due to water retention and bloating.

Pamprin contains a combination of three ingredients, including an antihistamine, a diuretic, and a pain reliever, and it promises to make your period at least a bit less painful all around. Women swear by Pamprin and say they can’t live without it.​


Best Pain Reliever for Muscle Pain: Advil Liqui-Gels (160 Count) Pain Reliever


Courtesy of Amazon

Exercise is fantastic for our bodies and leads to overall improved well being. However, it can also lead to muscle pain. When your muscles have reached their max threshold, Advil can help. Touted as the number-one-selling pain reliever in the world, it’s an NSAID, so it helps not just with pain and fever, but inflammation too.

Loyal customers swear by Advil and say it works quickly and the liquid-gels are easy to swallow. Beyond muscle aches, it also works well to alleviate headaches and reduce fevers.


Tooth Pain Reliever: Orajel Maximum Strength Gel Oral Pain Reliever, 0.42 Oz

When tooth pain strikes, seeing a dentist is your best bet, but until then, Orajel can help. You apply it right to the sore spot in your mouth for relief of minor pain. It contains a combination of benzocaine and menthol to help soothe the area and make your wait for that dentist appointment more bearable.

While this formula is recommended for adults and children ages 2 and older, Orajel also makes formulas for babies and those adorable gummy smiles that are teething.

Customers say the gel is easy to apply and works quickly, however, the results aren’t long lasting and may be best used along with another pain medication such as acetaminophen or an NSAID if the pain is intense.


Best Pain Reliever for Joint Pain: Biofreeze Pain Relief Gel for Arthritis

Achy joints are a pain unlike any other, as they cry out with each movement you make. Biofreeze promises to quiet those cries with its gel formula that contains a combination of menthol and herbs such as camphor, aloe, green tea, lemon balm and vitamin E.

Whether your joints ache from age, weather, arthritis, over-exertion or just because this roll-on gel may help provide temporary relief without the need for prescription drugs. You simply roll it on and it starts to work. It also comes in a spray-on formula if you prefer.

Customers rave about this product, saying it’s effective in relieving everything from chronic pain to occasional soreness. While the menthol smell isn’t everyone’s favorite, most customers say it’s worth it for the relief it provides.


Best Migraine Pain Reliever: Excedrin Migraine Geltabs for Migraine Pain Relief

Most migraine treatments require a prescription, but Excedrin Migraine is the first over-the-counter version approved by the FDA. Beyond providing relief from the pain, it may also help with the other side effects of migraines including nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.

It contains a triple threat of acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine, and it’s designed to work quickly. The overwhelming majority of reviewers on Amazon say it works wonderfully on migraines, especially if taken at the earliest signs that one is coming on.​

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