If you’re nursing a hangover after the new year festivities, should you reach for the aspirin, ibuprofen or paracetamol?
And if things are really bad, you might be asking yourself whether it’s worth paying extra for fast-acting painkillers, or maybe something with a hit of caffeine in it.
To find out which painkillers are worth shelling out for, we’ve reviewed the research on which work best and worst, and assessed whether other pain relief products, such as cold and flu remedies and those designed for back and joint pain relief, live up to their claims.
You can read our full verdict in our guide choosing the best painkillers.
Aspirin, ibuprofen or paracetamol?
If you’re looking for over-the-counter painkillers to put your acute or short-term pain to bed, you might be surprised at how differently the common types of painkillers stacked up when researchers performed an overview (a gold-standard Cochrane review) of reviews of the research.
Although you have to interpret the research carefully – it’s based on dental pain relief, and is made up of different studies by different people – the most effective way to treat pain was found to be a combination of painkillers. Ibuprofen and paracetamol taken together scored highest (70%) for pain relief, while a low dose of aspirin scored the lowest (11%).
To find out the exact doses and combinations, see our full painkillers table.
Joint and back pain relief products
We also asked manufacturers of four popular back pain relief products to provide research to back up their claims, and our three experts – a GP, a pharmacist and a pain relief academic expert – reviewed their evidence.
We found that the most expensive option isn’t necessarily the best, with our experts finding limited scientific justification for why the Philips Blue Touch Pain Relief Patch – which costs a hefty £199 – might be effective.
The company says it reduces back pain without the use of drugs, with the blue light supporting the body’s own recovery processes.
Nurofen and other targeted painkillers
In December, Nurofen manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser was ordered to take products that claim to target specific parts of the body, but are actually identical, off the shelves in Australia. Although UK versions of Nurofen aren’t exactly the same as those down under, our research shows that targeted painkillers are also an issue for UK consumers.
You might think that Nurofen Migraine Pain and Nurofen Tension Headache caplets would target your migraine and tension headaches respectively, but you’d be wrong: ibuprofen can’t target pain in specific body parts.
These two products are actually exactly the same as each other, as well as Nurofen Express caplets (342mg of fast-acting ibuprofen lysine), which were also available until recently.
Our full investigation into painkillers appears in the January 2016 issue of Which? magazine, out now. If you’re not already a Which? member, you can sign up for a £1 trial to Which? to get full access to our website and receive Which? magazine.