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What is the Best Painkiller for Neck Pain?

Neck pain is an extremely common condition that affects millions of people. While neck pain can often resolve on its own, over-the-counter pain medications are frequently used to help manage symptoms. When selecting the right medication for neck pain, there are several factors to consider including the cause of pain, other medical conditions, and potential side effects. This article reviews some of the best over-the-counter painkillers for relieving neck pain.


Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is often a good first choice for neck pain. It works by blocking pain signals in the brain. Acetaminophen has anti-inflammatory effects, which can be beneficial for muscle and joint pain. It tends to have fewer side effects than nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen when taken at recommended dosages. The recommended dosage for adults is 650-1000 mg every 4-6 hours as needed, up to 4000 mg per day. Acetaminophen should not exceed 3000 mg per day if you have liver disease or regularly consume alcohol. While acetaminophen is gentler on the stomach than NSAIDs, it’s still important to take with food.


Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) belongs to the NSAID class of pain relievers. It reduces pain and inflammation by blocking the production of inflammatory prostaglandins in the body. For neck pain, ibuprofen can help decrease muscle soreness, joint pain, and nerve pain. The recommended dosage for adults is 200-400 mg every 4-6 hours as needed, up to 1200 mg per day. Ibuprofen is best taken with food to minimize potential gastrointestinal side effects like nausea or stomach pain. Individuals with certain medical conditions need to use ibuprofen cautiously.

Naproxen Sodium

Naproxen sodium (Aleve) is another NSAID that’s helpful for neck pain. It works in the body similarly to ibuprofen but lasts longer – around 8 to 12 hours. The longer duration makes it convenient for neck pain since fewer doses are required in a day. The recommended dosage for adults is 220-440 mg every 8 to 12 hours as needed. Naproxen sodium should also be taken with food. It’s important to follow dosage recommendations closely as excessive use can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. Individuals with kidney disease, heart disease, or stomach ulcers need to avoid naproxen.


Aspirin is one of the oldest and most widely available over-the-counter pain medications. It reduces pain and inflammation through effects on prostaglandins. Aspirin may work well for certain neck pain like disc-related pain or spondylosis. The typical dosage is 325-650 mg every 4 hours as needed. Enteric coated aspirin is gentler on the stomach than regular aspirin. To reduce the risk of stomach bleeding and other side effects, it’s best to take the lowest effective dose of aspirin for the shortest time period. People with bleeding disorders or stomach ulcers should not take aspirin without first consulting their doctor.

Topical Pain Relievers

Topical creams and patches that contain ingredients like menthol, camphor, lidocaine, and capsaicin are sometimes used for neck pain. When applied to the skin over painful muscles, these products provide a cooling or warming sensation that distracts the body from pain signals. Topical pain relievers are generally safe since very little medication gets absorbed systemically. They can cause skin irritation in some individuals. For best results, follow product usage instructions carefully and don’t apply to broken skin.

The right medication for neck pain depends on the individual. It’s important to carefully follow dosage instructions and avoid exceeding maximum daily amounts. If neck pain persists more than a few days or causes severe symptoms, see a doctor for evaluation. With several good over-the-counter options available, most people can find an effective and affordable pain medication for relieving neck pain.