What Medications Are Effective For Low Back Pain or Neck Pain

What Medications Are Effective For Low Back Pain Or Neck Pain

When you experience a flare-up of back pain, your first thought might be to reach for medication.

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

Below is a list of 10 medications that can help you gain relief.

What should you consider when choosing medication for back pain?

You should not just consider how well the medication works, but also its side effects and whether it is addictive, as these factors can actually make your problems worse.

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 improve your symptoms and minimize your risks.

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 medications might be something your doctor suggests if your pain comes on suddenly.

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

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Different Medication For Pain


This is a common medication that successfully treats pain. It works by decreasing inflammation-causing molecules 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 mean it is 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, 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, intestinal, or other 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.

Naproxen sodium (Aleve)

This is another non-addictive medication  that works in a similar way to Ibuprofen by blocking 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 well as many other types of bleeding. 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.

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 medications.

To improve your pain and symptom relief, your doctor might suggest taking an OTC drug along with your muscle relaxant to improve its effectiveness.

Here are some common and effective muscle relaxants.


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

One of the biggest benefits of this medication is that it doesn’t sedate you as much as some 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.

Metaxalone (Skelaxin)

This is an effective muscle relaxant that has relatively fewer reported side effects as compared to other muscle relaxants on the market.

It also has the lowest risk of causing sedation, so it’s worth asking your doctor about.

Side effects: Irritability, drowsiness, and stomach upset

Important info: Metaxalone is a muscle relaxant that’s a bit more expensive than others and your insurance may not cover it.

Bearing in mind that muscle relaxants can be addictive, they should never be taken at a higher dosage than what your doctor prescribes, 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 symptoms while avoiding adverse side effects.


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 in some circumstances.

A positive aspect of antidepressants is that they’re typically non-addictive.

Duloxetine works by changing how norepinephrine and serotonin interact with the central nervous system.

This is important since both serotonin and norepinephrine 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.


If you have severe neck or back pain that has not been relieved by other medications or treatments your doctor might recommend that you take opioids.

Opioids relieve pain by interfering with the brain’s pain processing signals.

It is important to remember that opioids are not generally an appropriate treatment treatment for chronic pain, so at most you should take a short term course.

Opioids include various drugs, such as morphine, codeine and synthetic derivatives of codeine such as hydrocodone and oxycodone.

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

It is important to only take opioids under the supervision of your doctor. They can be highly addictive and if you have a history of addiction you should inform your doctor who might suggest an alternative form of treatment.

Corticosteroid injections

Corticosteroid Injections

For low back or neck pain that does not improve with other treatments, particularly if you have symptoms radiating to your arms or legs, your doctor might suggest an injection

Either lumbar or cervical epidural steroid injection, can reduce inflammation around the nerve roots exiting the spine and can improve your symptoms.

A spinal needle is placed into the epidural space, which is the area of cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the spinal cord. The spinal nerves move through the epidural space, so placing the medication there will allow the medication to work directly.

If your spine pain is as a result of a herniated disc, degenerated disc, osteoarthritis or even spinal stenosis, then this injection may provide pain relief.

Epidural steroid injections typically combine a strong anti-inflammatory medication, such as a corticosteroid, with an anesthetic such as Marcaine, to provide pain relief. The anesthetic wears off relatively quickly but the corticosteroid can continue to bathe the nerve root and decrease inflammation.

Basically, this injection brings steroidsdirectly to the spine’s epidural space.

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

Frequency: Some patients who receive a steroid injection will have pain relief for weeks, months, or even longer. Doctors will typically limit how often you receive steroid injections. You will likely not be given more than three injections in a year because of concerns about how steroids can affect you. These injections also tend to have diminishing returns, meaning each injection tends to work less well than the last. So it is better not to overuse them.

Is Back Pain Medication Necessary?

Looking On Pain Medication

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

These include treating your pain with a short period of rest followed by gentle exercises.

  • Be careful with staying in bed too long 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 generally staying active is recommended to keep your joints, muscles, and other soft tissues active and flexible.
  • Doing core exercises, such as pelvic tilts, helps to increase the strength of your abdominal muscles that support your spine. Yoga is another form of exercise that can be helpful. Yoga has stress-relieving benefits that can be beneficial to help loosen 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 the yoga also boosted their mood after six months.
  • You can also relieve or prevent neck and back pain by improving your posture. If you’re slouching over your desk at work all day, this can cause tightness and pain in your neck and lower back. You can improve your 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 can help to relieve back and neck pain because it is frequently the result of tight muscle and joints and bad posture.

Treatment for acute neck and back pain can be considered to be similar to the common cold. As spine researcher Rick Deyo told The New York Times, “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, unless you have any of the red flags of a serious condition, you can wait a few days to see if your symptoms resolve while trying home remedies.

Most patients who experience acute neck or low back pain will get better over time, whether or not they receive medical treatment.

So trying home remedies as the first line of treatment rather than rushing to the doctor can be beneficial while your back heals.

What About People Who Suffer From Chronic Pain?

Group of People Exercising

Patients with chronic pain should follow a similar when seeking pain relief.

It’s better to first try non-medication treatments and then over-the-counter NSAIDs.

If that doesn’t provide relief you should consider seeing your doctor for more definitive treatment.

By first choosing home remedies for your pain, you might find that you don’t even need to use medications.

This can both save you money and also help your body to heal on its own.

If your pain persists or becomes worse after a week or two, then consult your doctor about other pain-relieving drugs.

Also if your pain is accompanied by other symptoms, such as numbness, tingling, weakness, a high fever, or loss of bladder or bowel function, these can point to an underlying condition that requires emergent 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 is accompanied by other symptoms, then see your doctor who can try other treatments or do tests to discover the cause of the pain.


Having back or neck pain can get in the way of your life and you may be concerned that you have something serious.

Usually, this pain gets better quickly on it’s own.

Home remedies, such as applying heat or ice, rest, and gentle stretching, can help to relieve symptoms. Unfortunately, there may be time sometimes these are not strong enough to offer relief.

That’s why taking medication can help.

In this article, we have reviewed many different medications to treat lower back pain and neck pain so that it doesn’t ruin your quality of life.

Never 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 are informed to choose the best pain treatment.

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