What Medications Are Effective For Low Back Pain or Neck Pain

When you experience a bad bout of back pain, your first thought might be to reach for medication.

But what back medications are generally recommended for back and neck pain?

Here’s our list of 10 of the best medications to help you gain relief.

What should you consider when choosing medication for back pain?

It’s not just how well the medication works, but also what its side effects are and if it’s something to which you can become addicted, as these factors can cause you other problems.

Therefore, it’s essential that you don’t just reach for the first medication you can find.

By reading through the medications listed in this article, you’ll be better informed on how to choose the right medication for you to send your back and neck pain packing.

If you’d like to see a graphical breakdown of the recommended medications, we got you covered:

Back Pain Medications

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Over-The-Counter Medication

This is usually the first line of treatment when you have back or neck pain.

Over-the-counter medication might even be something your doctor suggests, such as if your pain comes on suddenly and is acute.

Often, OTC painkillers are all you need to help you feel better. Some of the most common OTC pain relievers for your back include:

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Different Medication For Pain

Ibuprofen

This is a common medication that successfully treats pain. It works by decreasing inflammation-causing hormones in the body.

Common side effects: Nausea, upset stomach, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headache, dizziness, nervousness, mild itching, rash, ringing in the ear, decreased appetite.

Important information: Although Ibuprofen is considered non-addictive, that doesn’t always make it completely safe. It does have some important health risks that need to be considered. It can increase your risk of a stroke or heart attack, Drugs reports, especially if you take it in high doses, use it for the long-term, or have a heart condition such as heart disease. It’s a medicine that can also cause stomach or intestinal bleeding, and these problems can happen without warning, so always talk to your doctor about using Ibuprofen and mention any health conditions or concerns you have.

Dosage: Don’t take Ibuprofen for longer than 30 days, and dosage should range from 400mg to 800mg, up to four times daily. You shouldn’t exceed the maximum of 3200mg daily.

Naproxen sodium (Aleve)

This non-addictive medication works in a similar way to Ibuprofen because it blocks the body’s production of substances that cause inflammation.

Common side effects: Abdominal pain, dizziness, constipation or diarrhea, headache, nausea, drowsiness, abdominal ulcers or bleeding, fluid retention and swelling, and shortness of breath.

Important information: Since it’s a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicine, naproxen may increase your risk of serious cardiovascular thrombotic events, strokes, and myocardial infarction. It also increases your risk of intestinal bleeding, gastric or intestinal perforation, and ulcers. As with Ibuprofen, always talk to your doctor about any concerns or health conditions you have to be sure that naproxen is right for you.

Dosage: OTC naproxen can be taken every 8 to 12 hours. You can take 550mg every 12 hours and possibly increase it to 825mg, but you should never exceed 1,375mg.

Muscle Relaxants

Robaxin Pills

If OTC medications don’t work to relieve your back or neck pain, your doctor might prescribe you muscle relaxants.

This is also a good option if you’re suffering from muscle spasms that can be very painful and not relieved with the use of OTC painkillers.

To improve how well the pain is eliminated, your doctor might suggest taking an OTC drug with your muscle relaxant to improve its effectiveness.

Here are some common and effective muscle relaxants.

Methocarbamol

This is a commonly used muscle relaxant for back and neck pain, and it’s otherwise known as Robaxin.

One of the biggest benefits of this medication is that it doesn’t sedate you as much as other muscle relaxants, so it’s a good first choice to treat pain, especially if you need to be alert for various tasks.

Side effects: Nausea, vomiting, skin flushing, upset stomach, headaches, memory problems, blurry vision, stuffy nose, itchy skin, rash, lightheadedness, constipation.

Dosage: 1500 mg every 6 to 8 hours.

Metaxalone (Skelaxin)

This is an effective muscle relaxant that has the fewest reported side effects as compared to other muscle relaxants that are on the market, as GoodRX reports.

It also has the lowest risk of sedating you, so it’s worth asking your doctor about if he or she suggests a muscle relaxant for your pain.

Side effects: Irritability, drowsiness, and stomach upset

Important info: Metaxalone is a muscle relaxant that’s a bit more expensive than others and insurance companies don’t usually cover it because there are cheaper alternatives. But, due to its effectiveness and few side effects, it’s worth paying money for, as GoodRX reports.

Dosage: 800mg three or four times a day

Bearing in mind that muscle relaxants can be addictive, they should never be taken at a higher dosage than what your doctor prescribed, nor should they be taken without a prescription or for longer than intended.

You will likely be put on a course of muscle relaxants only for a few days, but that should be enough to treat and relieve your pain while preventing adverse side effects, such as liver problems.

Antidepressants

Different Pills

While they’re usually prescribed to treat depression, there is evidence that antidepressants can be prescribed for pain.

An example of an antidepressant medication that can be used for pain is Duloxetine (Cymbalta), and this medication has been found to be an effective medicine for pain, as Harvard Health Publishing reports.

The good thing about antidepressants is that they’re non-addictive.

Duloxetine works by changing how norepinephrine and serotonin interact with the central nervous system, as Medical News Today explains.

This is important since both serotonin and norepinephrine (a hormone) play a role in how the body perceives pain.

Side effects: Dizziness, fatigue, sleepiness, insomnia, nausea, increased appetite, constipation or diarrhea, skin reactions, difficulty passing urine, sweating a lot, and low sodium levels in the blood.

Dosage: For chronic musculoskeletal pain, this medication can be given once daily, in 60mg dosage. However, you should start off with 30mg daily for one week, which allows your body to adjust to the medication and then increase your dosage to 60mg.

Opioids

If you have severe neck or back pain, or it hasn’t been relieved by other medication, your doctor might recommend that you take opioids.

How opioids work to relieve pain is that they interfere with the brain’s pain processing signals.

However, it’s important to note that opioids aren’t a successful line of treatment for chronic pain, as Mayo Clinic reports, so you probably won’t receive a long course of them.

Opioids include various drugs, such as codeine.

Side effects: nausea and vomiting, sweating, drowsiness, allergic reactions, sedation, rashes, itchy skin, dizziness, constipation, and shortness of breath.

Dosage: The general dosage is 15-60mg for adults, taken every 4 to 6 hours. Drugs like codeine can be addictive, so it’s important to take them under the supervision of your doctor. You should also inform your doctor if you have a history of addiction as he/she might suggest an alternative form of treatment.

Corticosteroid injections

Corticosteroid Injections

When it comes to neck pain, your doctor might suggest an injection, especially if oral medications haven’t helped you to feel better. 

Known as a cervical epidural steroid injection, this reduces the pain that’s linked to nerve inflammation in the neck.

How it works is that the injection enters the epidural space around the sacs that surround nerve roots.

The neck nerves move through the epidural space, so injecting it will coat the nerves with medication directly.

If your neck pain is as a result of a herniated disc, degenerated disc, osteoarthritis or even spinal stenosis, then this injection can provide pain relief, as Spine Health reports.

For lower back pain, your doctor might suggest an epidural steroid injection. It’s especially beneficial if your pain has come on suddenly and is intense.

These injections can also be used to treat leg and neck pain, and they work in a similar way to the cervical epidural steroid injection.

Basically, this injection brings steroids, which have anti-inflammatory properties, directly to the spine’s epidural space.

Side effects of steroid injections: sleeplessness, headaches, facial flushing, fever, anxiety, cataracts, stomach ulcers, arthritis in hips. However, side effects from these injections are much less prevalent and common than those from oral steroids.

Dosage: This varies due to how some patients who receive a steroid injection will have pain relief for weeks or even years. However, doctors will also limit how often you can take steroid injections. For example, you will likely not be allowed to have more than three injections in a year because of concerns about how steroids can affect you.

Is Back Pain Medication Necessary?

Looking On Pain Medication

Before you reach for medication to treat your back or neck pain, there are other things you can try.

These include treating your pain with a bit of rest followed by exercise.

  • Tread carefully when going to bed because of back or neck pain. Bed rest is no longer recommended by doctors for the treatment of these types of pain. Resting for a few hours at a time is sufficient but no more – staying active is much more recommended to keep your muscles active and flexible.
  • Doing core exercises, such as pelvic tilts, helps to increase the strength of your abdominal muscles that support your spine. Another good exercise to try is yoga, and it also has stress-relieving benefits that can be beneficial to ward off tight muscles. Research that was conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that people who did yoga poses had less pain, and also boosted their mood after six months.
  • You can also relieve or prevent back pain by having better posture. If you’re slouching over your desk at work all day, this can cause tightness and pain in your neck and lower back. Get better posture by following these tips, as outlined by Health Harvard Publishing:
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades. Sit in a chair with your shoulders relaxed and look straight ahead so your chin is level. Pull your shoulders back and squeeze your shoulder blades. Hold this position for about five seconds, then relax.
  • Do an upper body stretch. Face a wall in the room with your arms straight and your palms touching the wall. Keep your elbows in line with your shoulders and put one foot in front of the other. Now, bend your forward leg and exhale as you lean your body towards the wall. You want to keep your back straight and your chest up for this stretch. You know you’re doing it correctly if you feel a stretch in your chest. Maintain the stretch for about 20 seconds.

Stretches such as the above can help to relieve pain in the back and neck because, as the site states, most back pain comes about as a result of our daily activities, such as having bad posture.

Although it might sound surprising, the treatment for acute back pain is sometimes considered to be similar to the common cold, spine researcher Rick Deyo told The New York Times (via Nurse).

This is because, as he says, “It is very common and very annoying when it happens. But most of the time it will not result in anything major or serious.”

Therefore, you can wait it out for a few days to see what happens, while trying home remedies to relieve its symptoms.

In addition, most patients who experience acute lower back pain will get better over time, whether or not they decide to proceed with treatment.

So, using home remedies as the first line of treatment instead of rushing to the doctor can be beneficial and offer you relief while your back heals.

What About People Who Suffer From Chronic Pain?

Group of People Exercising

Although this might appear to make finding the right medication to treat the pain more urgent, the same strategy should apply.

It’s better to first try non-medication treatments and then if these don’t help painkillers such as NSAIDs can be tried.

If that still doesn’t work, then they should go to their doctor for something stronger.

By choosing to try home remedies for your pain, you might find that you don’t even need to use medication to treat it.

This not only saves you money but can help your body to heal on its own.

That said, if your pain persists or becomes worse after a week or two, then it’s best to consult with your doctor about pain-relieving drugs.

The same goes for if you find that your pain is accompanied by other symptoms, such as numbness, tingling, weakness, or a high fever, as these can point to an underlying condition that requires treatment without delay.

Related Questions

Should you ice or heat your neck and back pain?

Applying ice and heat to the affected area can sometimes be all you need to treat your back or neck pain.

You should apply ice to the area for the first 48 hours to decrease inflammation, then apply heat to increase blood flow to the tissues and to relax muscles.

When should you see a doctor for back and neck pain?

If you take OTC medication and decrease your level of activity, you should see improvements within a day or two.

If the pain gets worse or it’s accompanied by other symptoms, you should chat with your doctor who’ll be able to prescribe stronger drugs or do tests to discover the cause of the pain.

Conclusion

Having back or neck pain can get in the way of your life and make you worry that it’s something serious.

The good news is that it rarely is and most cases of these types of pain will go away on their own.

Although home remedies, such as applying heat or ice to the area, can help to relieve symptoms, unfortunately, it’s the case that sometimes these are not strong enough to offer relief.

That’s why taking medication can help.

As can be seen in this article, there are many different medications that can be taken to treat lower back pain and neck pain so that it doesn’t have to get in the way of your quality of life.

Remember never to take any medication without your doctor’s knowledge and recommendation, as that can potentially risk your health and give you unwanted side effects.

By reading this article that outlines different types of medication for neck and back pain, as well as their side effects and other considerations, you’ll be better informed to choose the best pain treatment.

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