Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs and Chronic Pain

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, are pain medications often used to treat muscle and joint pain. NSAIDs fall under the heading of non-narcotic pain medications. Using NSAIDs for chronic pain is most effective when pain is mild or moderate.

Many NSAIDs can be purchased over the counter. Ibuprofen and naproxen, both NSAIDs, are readily available in drug and convenience stores. Prescription-strength NSAIDs for chronic pain are also available if the pain is more severe. In these cases, NSAIDs may also be combined with opioids to better control the pain.

NSAIDs reduce pain in two ways. First, they alter the sensation of pain by blocking certain enzymes that participate in the pain response. Second, they work to reduce swelling that is often associated with certain types of pain. Some NSAIDs are only effective at reducing swelling when taken at higher doses.

Most NSAIDs are taken by mouth. NSAID strength varies depending on the type of medication and dosage.

Some of the more commonly available over-the-counter NSAIDs for chronic pain include aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and ketoprofen. These pain medications are sold in different non-prescription strengths, and may be combined with other ingredients such as caffeine or acetaminophen.

Prescription strength versions of NSAIDs are available as well. Some commonly used prescription NSAIDs for chronic pain include meloxicam and celecoxib. Nearly all NSAIDs, both prescription and over the counter, are taken orally.

Evidence suggests that the potential for NSAID-associated complications increases as you get older. Some more common side effects include:

  • Stomach irritation and ulcers
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding
  • Increased potential for bruising
  • Exacerbation of asthma symptoms
  • Increased risk of stroke, heart attack and blood clots

If a person plans to be on NSAIDs for chronic pain long-term, his or her doctor may alter the dosage. The doctor may also provide other prescription medication that offsets the potential for developing any of the above conditions, such as misoprostel. The potential for NSAID complications may be increased for people who:

  • Smoke
  • Drink alcohol regularly
  • Are a senior
  • Have a history of heart disease
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have ever had any GI problems
  • Have kidney or liver disease

All NSAIDs, both prescription and over the counter, now have warning labels thanks to a ruling by the Food and Drug Administration. Despite the warnings, taking NSAIDs remains one of the most popular ways to relieve pain.


At the Edward A Smith Law Offices, we understand our injured clients’ pain. We have counseled numerous acute and chronic pain patients who have suffered injury from motor vehicle accidents or other types of personal injury. We have empathy, compassion, and understanding of their pain. In addition to practicing law and handling our clients’ cases with the utmost in experience and expertise, we have a referral network with a team of professionals including doctors, chiropractors,surgeons, and physical therapists to better treat our clients’ needs holistically.