Tylenol vs. Ibuprofen

By Matt Paulus, Certified Athletic Trainer

Tylenol vs. Ibuprofen for injuries

pain after injuring knee during sports training

Which is Better, Tylenol vs. Ibuprofen ?

As a clinical staff we are commonly asked whether someone should take Tylenol or Ibuprofen after an injury or while they are attending physical therapy. Both are over the counter medications that treat fever and pain. The easiest way to approach this subject is to ask yourself what are your desired outcomes from taking a certain medication? Chronic injuries may require a different route than acute injuries. Some people respond to different medications better than others. The answer to the question is do you want to control pain or inflammation?


Analgesic medications (ie: Tylenol) are used to manage pain of non-visceral origin. Examples include headaches and mild to moderate joint or muscle pain. Acetaminophen is the most common analgesic in use today. It is used extensively to reduce fever as well as reducing mild to moderate pain. Tylenol is strictly for pain control and has no anti-inflammatory function.


Anti-inflammatory medications (ie: Ibuprofen) are effective in controlling the production of prostaglandin, a chemical that is released at the site of injury and contributes to the body’s inflammatory response to injury. Prostaglandins are important mediators of inflammation, causing vasodilation, increasing edema and sensitizing the tissues to painful stimuli. These are also referred to as non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Common NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. Ibuprofen has analgesic (controls pain), anti-inflammatory, and anti-pyretic (reduces body temperature) qualities. Like most anti-inflammatory medications, it should be taken with food or a large quantity of water to minimize gastric irritation. Common over-the-counter (OTC) brands that can be used as anti-inflammatories are Advil (mixture of ibuprofen and acetaminophen), Aleve (naproxen sodium), and Motrin (another name for ibuprofen). Anti-inflammatories have been shown to be effective with acute injuries, but chronic conditions are still under review.

Final Thoughts, Tylenol vs. Ibuprofen

To summarize, injuries like an ankle sprain would probably be treated better by taking Ibuprofen.  Whereas a general backache would probably be treated better by taking Tylenol. Dosage amounts for both Ibuprofen and Tylenol depend on the specific drug, so refer to the recommendations listed on the bottle or consult with your physician.

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By: Matt Paulus, MS, ATC, LAT

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