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General Knowledge

How do Pain Relievers work? – Basics

How do Pain Relievers work? – Basics

Almost everyone takes a Pain Reliever or Pain Killer to get relief from severe pain on the muscles or joints. But how does it relieve your pain? It does not know where exactly you have pain or it does not directly reach the area where you have pain. Interesting isn’t it?.

Has anyone wondered how we get pain relief soon after we consume a pain killer? To know about how it happens, we first need to know what is a pain killer.

What is a pain killer?

A pain killer or pain reliever is actually a drug that reduces pain without causing unconsciousness or complete loss of feeling. Medically, they are known as Analgesics. There are two types of Analgesics.

  • Peripherally-Acting Analgesics or Non-Narcotic Pain Relievers
  • Centrally-Acting Analgesics or Narcotic Pain Relievers

When we have pain associated with Muscles or Bones, we take the Peripherally-Acting Analgesics. They are mild Analgesics. The most common form of it is the Aspirin which has the active constituent Acetylsalicylic Acid. Two pain killers most often taken are Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen which are available in liquid, chewable or pill forms.

How do they work?

The Pain Killers do not directly go to your affected area. They work with the cells, body’s nerve endings, nervous system and brain to reduce the feeling of pain. The body is full of nerve endings in the skin and tissues. Some of these nerve endings can sense pain. When the cells in the body are injured or damaged, they release chemicals called Prostaglandins.

The nerve endings that sense pain are very sensitive to this chemical. The nerve endings respond to the sense by picking up and transmitting the pain message to the brain through the nervous system. They tell the brain everything about the pain and injury like where and how much it hurts.

When pain killers are taken, they keep the injured or damaged cells from making and releasing Prostaglandin. When Prostaglandin is not produced, it means that the brain no longer gets messages instantly or clearly. So, you feel a reduction in pain. Acetaminophen works in the brain and therefore you don’t feel the pain.

In case of any operation or severe health problems, doctors may prescribe stronger pain relievers. They work by getting in between the nerve cells so that they cannot transmit the pain message to one another and hence to the brain.

So what is the realty?

So, by taking the Pain Killer or Pain Reliever, you are not actually getting rid of the pain but your brain is getting cheated. Therefore it is not a good idea to depend upon the Pain Killer or Pain Reliever always. Analgesics have a number of side effects. Aspirin can irritate the stomach and cause indigestion. In serious cases, it may lead to ulcer as well and some cases anemia. We must identify the reason for pain and treat it properly so that the issues with our muscles and bones are sorted out. Pain Killers are only temporary.

Disclaimer: Medicines must be taken only after consulting with your doctor. The information provided here is only for public awareness and gathered from various sources.

Watch a short video – Credit: TED-Ed – on How do Pain Relievers work?

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Born and brought up in Kerala, I did my schooling in Kerala and graduated (B.Sc Physics) from the Calicut University. I have worked with a Swedish Company from 1994 to 2015, as a Senior Project Manager in their Group IT Division in Dubai. This blog is the result of my strong desire to communicate with others, sharing what I know and what I could gather from various sources.


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