Many of us have wondered how the pain relievers we take to get rid of headaches or backaches know how to solve our problems. We don't understand how pain relievers work, we just know that the pain magically disappears or hurts less.
To understand how pain relievers work, you must first understand pain itself. When cells in your body are injured or damaged, they release chemicals such as prostaglandin. These chemicals trigger inflammation in the body’s tissues and activate pain receptors located on nerve endings in the damaged tissue – which then transmit the "it hurts" message to the brain.
Pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen keep injured or damaged cells from making and releasing prostaglandin, thereby reducing inflammation and interfering with pain messages going to the brain. "These medications diffuse throughout the body, including into inflamed or injured tissues, but they only interfere with chemicals or receptors that are active in inflamed or injured tissue. It is in that way that a medication seems to seek out the inflammed or injured part of the body," says Bruce Huck, MD, a primary care physician at Rush.
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