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Extra Strength: What Does it Mean When it Comes to Pain Relief?

Shopping for a pain reliever means being presented with an almost overwhelming amount of options. Boxes and bottles seem to be screaming words at you like “rapid release,” “low dose,” “extended-release,” or, my favorite, “extra strength.” But what does that mean? What ingredients are different when you choose extra strength, and is it safe?

Of course, whether it’s oral like an ibuprofen capsule or topical like hempvana Platinum pain relief cream, an over-the-counter pain reliever has to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. So by FDA standards, they’re safe. But not all extra strength pain relievers are “extra” in the same way. Here’s a look at what those words mean, and what kind might be the best choice for you. 

What Does “Extra Strength” Mean?

As you can probably guess, “extra strength,” at the surface level, means there’s more than usual of a key or active ingredient in a drug or product, making the effect stronger than usual. But depending on the product and the ingredient that’s increased in that extra strength product, those words can still mean different things. 

Extra Strength: Active Ingredient

In over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, extra strength often means that there’s more of the active ingredient in each dose than the drug would usually contain. To further define that, an active ingredient is a medication-related term that refers to the component of a substance (in this case a medicine or drug) that causes that substance’s effect. It’s what makes the medicine work.

In Advil, for example, the active ingredient is ibuprofen; in Tylenol, it’s acetaminophen. Each active ingredient in a drug has a different effect on your body, which is what differentiates common pain relievers like Advil, Tylenol, and Aleve. So using the example of Advil again, its active ingredient, ibuprofen, affects your body’s ability to produce chemicals that make you feel discomforts (like pain or flu symptoms). Acetaminophen, Aspirin, and other common active ingredients in pain relievers take a different route to achieve the desired effect. 

To make one of these OTC pain relievers extra strength, the manufacturers simply make one capsule or tablet stronger than usual. So with Advil, a typical capsule contains 200mg of ibuprofen, while an Extra Strength Advil capsule contains 400mg. The increased dosage is intended to have a stronger effect, as more of the drug is in your system. 

Extra Strength: Key Ingredients

Increasing the dosage of the active ingredient isn’t the only reason a pain reliever will call itself “extra strength,” or something comparable. Some OTC pain relievers have other ingredients that are more of a supplement than a necessity. An example of this is Hempvana Platinum Pain Relief Cream, a topical relief cream for muscle pain and soreness. In Hempvana Platinum Pain Relief Cream, the active ingredient is trolamine salicylate 10%, a common active ingredient in topical pain relievers (which we’ll discuss more below). Hempvana’s original pain relief cream also contains trolamine salicylate 10%. It’s the same dose of the active ingredient, but one is for maximum strength pain relief (coined “Platinum” here). Why?

In this case, it’s because of the supplemental ingredient, hemp seed extract. Hempvana products contain hemp seed extract as a supplemental ingredient; it’s not a drug, but rather a natural oil extracted from seeds (like sesame oil or grapeseed oil). As a supplement, hemp seed extract has numerous health benefits and when applied topically, it’s known to help moisturize skin and increase absorption. So Hempvana Platinum Pain Relief Cream is considered maximum strength not because of an increase in the active ingredient, but because of an increase in the supplemental ingredient. This “maximum strength” version contains four times the amount of hemp seed extract that the original version has.

Topical vs. Oral: What’s the Difference?

The sections above mention oral pain relievers, like Advil capsules, and topical pain relievers, like Hempvana Platinum Pain Relief Cream. If you’re unfamiliar with those terms, you may be wondering which is right for you, whether it’s extra strength or not. 

Oral Pain Relievers

Oral pain relievers are pain relievers you take by mouth, like a capsule, a tablet, or even a liquid. There are two main differences between oral and topical pain relievers. The first is that oral pain relievers enter your gastrointestinal tract and pass through your liver. The second is that oral pain relievers are usually systemic, affecting your entire body or a specific body system rather than a specific location on your body. You may use an oral pain reliever for general bodily aches and pains, headaches, cramps, or other discomforts that aren’t specific to a single area. 

Topical Pain Relievers

In contrast, topical pain relievers work from the outside in and come in the form of creams, gels, or patches. For this reason, they usually contain different active ingredients than oral pain relievers, like trolamine salicylate in Hempvana Platinum Pain Relief Cream, lidocaine, capsaicin, or others. These ingredients affect the specific area you apply them to, rather than your whole body, making topical pain relievers perfect for muscle aches, muscle soreness, tendon pain, and joint pain.


Hopefully this guide has helped you determine what kind of pain reliever might be best for you, whether it’s extra strength, maximum strength, oral, or topical. But regardless of what you choose, we always recommend speaking to a medical professional before taking a new over-the-counter drug. It’s important to know how the active ingredients in a drug may affect you or how they may interact with other drugs or supplements you’re already taking. So read your labels, do your research, and have the important conversations. As you’ve likely gathered by this point in the article, there are numerous kinds of pain relievers out there, so make sure you choose the right one for your body and your lifestyle. 


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