Last updated:19th April 2016

Analgesics (painkillers)

Painkillers (analgesics) are used to provide pain relief.

They come in different strengths. Some can be bought over the counter from a chemist while stronger painkillers are prescribed by a doctor.

Analgesics can be categorised as simple, compound and topical.

Simple Analgesics

Simple analgesics only contain one type of pain medication. Paracetamol is a good example of a simple analgesic.

They are often available over the counter from a chemist shop and are usually helpful in mild to moderate pain.

Stronger analgesics are available with a doctor's prescription. These would include opioids such as morphine.

Compound analgesics

Compound analgesics are pain medications that contain more than one ingredient. A good example of a compound analgesic is paracetamol and codeine (commonly known as co-codamol).

These pain medications are usually only available with a doctors prescription because they contain opioids.

Topical analgesics

Topical analgesics are applied to the skin to reduce pain and swelling. They work best for pain which is localised to one particular area of the body.

There are a wide variety of topical analgesics available for pain control, both in prescription and over the counter form. These include lotions, creams and patches.

Like simple analgesics, topical analgesics work in a few different ways. Some contain non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which help target swelling at the site of injury and provide pain relief.

Others, such as capsicum, act as skin irritants, countering the feeling of pain.


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