Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen? Which to Choose?

When people are in pain, whether it’s from a headache, sore back, or muscle sprain from playing sports, they often reach for over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

Which one is better to take? According to pain management specialist Dr. David Maine, Director of The Center for Interventional Pain Medicine at Mercy Medical Center, the two drugs are very different.

Acetaminophen, which many people know through name brands like Tylenol, is often used for headache pain and for use in children.

Ibuprofen, which many people know through name brands like Advil, is an anti-inflammatory medication and is typically used to treat problems like back pain and sports injuries. But both of these painkillers can have side effects.

“I don’t think there’s a specific medication when you think about Tylenol or non-steroidals such as ibuprofen that one is necessarily safer than the other,” Dr. Maine said. “I think ibuprofen and non-steroidals in general are more effective for treating pain conditions, but safety lies in how you’re taking the medication and dose and they can both cause significant problems if taken excessively in doses that are not recommended.”

Dr. Maine added that if you are already taking pain medication, be wary of combination drugs, like cold medications, that can may contain painkillers, so you don’t take too much.

Dr. Maine, named a “Top Doc” by Baltimore magazine, is skilled in a variety of leading edge, pain relief procedures including peripheral nerve stimulation and minimally invasive lumbar decompression. He is Board Certified in Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine.



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