Over-the-counter medications are often the first line of defense for pain relief, and while they don’t require a prescription, a Mayo Clinic doctor says it is important to understand which medicines to take and at what dosage.

Mayo Clinic family physician Dr. Summer Allen.

Family physician Dr. Summer Allen said they can help with everything from back pain to headaches and, “They’re fantastic medications, particularly if we utilize them when we need to.”

Although drugs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen don’t require a prescription and aren’t considered addictive, Allen said it’s still important to understand there can be side effects and risks. “I always encourage patients when they are utilizing an over-the-counter medication to read that label,” she said.

Mayo Clinic pharmacist Dr. Carrie Krieger.

Dosage also is important. For most of these pain relief medications, Mayo Clinic pharmacist Dr. Carrie Krieger said the average adult shouldn’t exceed 3,000 milligrams in a 24-hour period because, “We always want a person to take the lowest dose necessary that they require to treat their pain,”

Over-the-counter medications can be convenient and provide fast relief, but, when it comes to pain, Allen says it’s not always an easy solution and, “Most important for patients is when they’re unsure about how much to take, how long to take it, not to hesitate to reach out to their health care provider or team member,” said Dr. Allen.