Back Pain Medications
Medications are often used to treat acute and chronic low back pain. Effective back pain relief may involve a combination of prescription drugs and over-the-counter remedies. Patients should always check with a doctor before taking drugs for back pain relief. Certain back pain medicines, even those sold over the counter, are unsafe during pregnancy, may conflict with other medications, may cause side effects including drowsiness, or may lead to liver damage.
Over-the-counter analgesics, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen), are taken orally to reduce stiffness, swelling, and inflammation and to ease mild to moderate low back pain. Counter-irritants applied topically to the skin as a cream or spray stimulate the nerve endings in the skin to provide feelings of warmth or cold and dull the sense of back pain. Topical analgesics can also reduce inflammation and stimulate blood flow. Many of these compounds contain salicylates, the same ingredient found in oral pain medications containing aspirin.
Anticonvulsants — drugs primarily used to treat seizures — may be useful in treating certain types of nerve pain and may also be prescribed with analgesics.
Some antidepressants, particularly tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline and desipramine, have been shown to relieve back pain (independent of their effect on depression) and assist with sleep. Antidepressants alter levels of brain chemicals to elevate mood and dull back pain signals. Many of the new antidepressants, such as the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are being studied for their effectiveness in back pain relief.
Opioids such as codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine are often prescribed to manage severe acute and chronic back pain but should be used only for a short period of time and under a physician’s supervision. Side effects can include drowsiness, decreased reaction time, impaired judgment, and potential for addiction. Many specialists are convinced that chronic use of these drugs is detrimental to the back pain patient, adding to depression and even increasing back pain.
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