Nerve pain is debilitating because it is not a condition of a few days, it is a challenge to live with an illness that is constantly there. Given the chronic nature of nerve pain, it is best to try to treat it with non-pharmacological methods.
However, non-pharmacological methods may fail to relieve the pain in certain conditions, thus necessitating the need for medications. When it comes to medications, people would mostly start with some of the over the counter pain relievers and ibuprofen is one of the most common of them.
Before we look deeper into the ibuprofen, its mode of action and its role in nerve pain, let us explore some of the most commonly used over the counter medications to treat nerve pain.
- Topical creams and ointments – when someone has a painful condition of the muscles, joints or nerves, topical painkillers are the first thing that come to mind. There are hundreds of creams and ointments available in pharmacies, each with a different formulation. It is always a good idea to try them, as topical painkillers are much safer than tablets or capsules. Some topical painkillers contain the same drugs or medicines that are taken orally, while others are based on natural ingredients. Capsaicin is a natural extract (from chilli peppers) that has been well studied for nerve pain and has been shown to help in many cases. It helps by improving local blood flow and also by distracting attention from the pain. Many topical ointments contain a variety of botanical oils. It is known that many of them can help, but very little is known about the mechanism of action of natural ointments.
- Painkillers – The next common thing that most people with nerve pain resort to is the use of over-the-counter painkillers. Acetaminophen, aspirin and ibuprofen are the most common. These painkillers are useful for mild to moderate pain. Except for paracetamol, most standard painkillers also have an anti-inflammatory effect. Although these painkillers are quite safe in the short term, there are some side effects if they are taken for a long time. However, since nerve pain can last for months or even years, there is a risk of side effects and drug abuse.
- Supplements and vitamins – they may or may not help. But they are thought to be quite safe. So it is not surprising that most people with nerve pain take multivitamins and supplements from time to time.
Ibuprofen for nerve pain
As we have already mentioned, ibuprofen is one of the most common drugs used to treat various painful conditions. It would help with mild to moderate nerve pain. It belongs to a class of drugs called NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). As well as reducing pain, ibuprofen also helps to reduce fever and has anti-inflammatory effects. Ibuprofen has been included in the WHO list of essential medicines because of its effectiveness, safety profile and low cost.
However, it is important to remember that ibuprofen is not a specific medication for nerve pain and is not intended for long-term use. Long-term use can cause many of the side effects associated with these drugs.
Ibuprofen works by inhibiting the production of substances called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are substances produced by the body in response to injury that cause pain and swelling (or inflammation). Prostaglandins are also responsible for causing fever.
The painkilling effects of ibuprofen start within hours, but the anti-inflammatory effects take several days (sometimes weeks) to peak. Although ibuprofen is a safe and effective drug, it is not without side effects.
Side effects of ibuprofen
Ibuprofen is not suitable for people who are allergic to aspirin. It is also known to irritate the stomach, weakening its defences and increasing the risk of gastritis or even peptic ulcers. Ibuprofen is also not indicated for people with severe heart failure.
In 2015, the FDA issued a warning about ibuprofen, stating that it increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, especially when taken for long periods. Therefore, if a person taking ibuprofen feels chest tightness, sudden weakness or slurred speech, there is reason to be concerned and seek immediate medical attention.
Ibuprofen should be used with caution in people with asthma, liver disease, kidney disease, heart disease, a history of ulcers or stomach bleeding.
In some people ibuprofen may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, indigestion, abdominal pain, dizziness. In rare cases it may cause fluid retention, oedema, dizziness.
Although ibuprofen is not addictive, it is difficult to stop taking it after a long period of use. Some people experience mood changes and headaches, making withdrawal difficult.
It is important to understand that although ibuprofen can help with mild to moderate nerve pain, there are specific health risks associated with long-term use.