Understanding where Nurofen works

Ibuprofen, the main ingredient in Nurofen, is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), sometimes called an anti-inflammatory.1 It helps relieve pain by blocking chemicals called prostaglandins, which are involved in inflammation and pain signalling throughout the body.2–4 In contrast, paracetamol relieves pain by mainly acting in the central nervous system (the brain).5

Why blocking prostaglandins helps relieve pain and inflammation

Prostaglandins are natural chemicals that can be released into your body when you are injured or sick.4 When prostaglandins are released, they make nearby nerves very sensitive to pain3 – which helps your body realise that something is wrong6. Prostaglandins also make tissues inflamed and swollen.3 They are one of the reasons why you get a sore throat when you are sick, and also one reason why a sprained ankle becomes swollen.3

Ibuprofen blocks the production of prostaglandins.7 It’s what makes Nurofen effective at relieving both pain and inflammation throughout the body.8 Because of this mode of action, these types of pain relievers can be said to provide pain relief at the site of pain.3


  1. Grosser T, et al (2011) Chapter 34. Anti-Inflammatory, Antipyretic, and Analgesic Agents: Pharmacotherapy of Gout. In: Brunton LL, Chabner BA, Knollmann BC (Eds). Goodman & Gilman's The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics. 12th Edition.McGraw Hill Medical
  2. Dalton, J.D. and Schweinle, J.E. (2006) Randomized Controlled Noninferiority Trial to Compare Extended Release Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen for the Treatment of Ankle Sprains. Annals of Emergency Medicine 48(5): 615-623.
  3. McGriff-Lee, N. (2003) Management of Acute Soft Tissue Injuries. Journal of Pharmacy Practice 16(1):51–58.
  4. Poon, D.C-H. et al. (2015) Sickness: From the focus on cytokines, prostaglandins, and complement factors to the perspectives of neurons. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 57:30-45.
  5. Ghanem, C.I. et al. (2016) Acetaminophen; From Liver to Brain: New Insights Into Drug Pharmacological Action And Toxicity. Pharmacol. Res. 109: 119-131.
  6. Inquimbert, P. and Scholz, J. (2011) Pain. In Brady, S. et al. Basic Neurochemistry, Eighth Edition. Elsevier, Amsterdam.
  7. Varrassi, G. et al. (2019) Ibuprofen Safety at the Golden Anniversary: Are all NSAIDs the Same? A Narrative Review. Advances in Therapy 37: 61–82.
  8. Rainsford, K.D. (2009) Ibuprofen: pharmacology, efficacy and safety. Inflammopharmacology 17: 275-342.