80% of patients who visited a primary care provider for back pain were prescribed at least one medication, notes Dr. Mark Borigini in a post for Psychology Today. As discussed earlier on this blog, there are obviously many treatment options for back pain–ranging from physical therapy to epidural steroid injections. Medicines used for back pain continue to be one of the leading options, however, with many patients finding relief, especially for short-term acute back pain. We’ll discuss some of these in more detail below, along with their side effects and benefits.

Over-the-counter medicines 

These refer to easily accessible drugs, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and tylenol. NSAIDs include the class of drugs that can reduce inflammation, thereby easing pain, stiffness, and swelling. They include aspirin and ibuprofen that are largely available at most retail outlets. Multiple studies have found that these drugs do help with mild or moderate cases of back pain, though they are best used for a short period of time. Side effects of extended use can include gastrointestinal irritation, ulcers, and bleeding. Tylenol is not associated with as many risk factors, but it also doesn’t provide as much pain relief.

Antidepressant medications 

Many new studies are reviewing the benefits of antidepressant medications for treating back pain. The class of medications–tricyclics–have shown the most promise for relieving pain. Though not completely understood, these medications may alter chemicals in the brain that can then lead to elevated mood and reduced feelings of pain. This class of drugs can lead to drowsiness, constipation, weight gain, or changes in blood pressure, however, so it is important that patients are started on a lower dosage that is increased slowly.

Muscle relaxants

These medicines are particularly useful for back pain that is caused by a neuropathic, or nerve related, condition. They can help reduce spasticitiy and spasms in the muscles in the back, relieve pain, and hyperreflexia (overactive reflexes). Side effects may include sedation, dizziness, blurred vision, and sleep problems. It is important that patients do not consume alcohol while on these drugs or operate motor vehicles or heavy machinery.

Opioid medications 

Opioid medications are a controversial class of medicines used for back pain due to their risk for abuse. These medications include codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine. They are best used to manage very severe acute pain under a doctor’s supervision. Long-term use of these drugs may lead to misuse, abuse, and even overdose. Side effects may include drowsiness, impaired judgement, constipation, and respiratory problems.

Before taking any medications for back pain, it is most important to discuss your options with your doctor. Even over-the-counter medications may negatively react with other prescriptions you are taking, so it is best to always exercise cautions.

Do you take medicine for back pain? 

Image by liz west via Flickr

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