Medication for Back Pain
Medicines can lower the intensity of your back pain and reduce muscle spasms. There are several different medication options your doctor may recommend.
Your doctor will determine which medication might help based on:
- How long you have been experiencing pain
- Additional symptoms you are experiencing, like muscle spasms
- Your medical history
It is important to be safe with pain medications and follow all your doctor’s instructions carefully.
The most common medications for treating back pain are:
- Acetaminophen and NSAIDs
- Topical pain relievers
- Muscle relaxers
- Opioids and narcotics
- Anti-seizure medicines
Acetaminophen and NSAIDs
Acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are medications for treating pain you can get without a prescription. Your doctor may also prescribe them in stronger doses.
Acetaminophen inhibits the pain process, but how this works is unknown. Acetaminophen does not fight inflammation.
However, high doses of acetaminophen may cause liver damage. The FDA recommends no more than 4,000 mg of acetaminophen per day, but many doctors suggest taking closer to 3,000 mg.
Over-the-counter NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen, and common aspirin. These can reduce pain and inflammation and are more potent than acetaminophen.
Common side effects of NSAIDs are stomach pain, nausea, constipation, and diarrhea. Long-term use of NSAIDs may cause very dangerous side effects, including:
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
- Heart problems
- Kidney damage
Topical Pain Relievers
Topical pain creams, gels, and lotions are applied to the skin and intended to relieve localized pain. You can get most of these without a prescription. Brands include Icy Hot and Ben Gay.
Common side effects may include redness, stinging or burning at the application site. You should stop using a topical pain reliever if you experience blisters, swelling, severe redness, increased or new pain.
Despite their name, muscle relaxers do not affect the muscles. They actually work in the spinal cord and brain.
Your doctor may prescribe a muscle relaxer along with an over-the-counter pain reliever for your back.
Side effects with muscle relaxers may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
Muscle relaxers can be habit forming so it is important to talk to your doctor before starting use.
Muscle relaxers may also interact with other medications you are taking or adversely affect other conditions you have. Lastly, you shouldn’t drink alcohol, drive or operate heavy machinery while taking muscle relaxers.