Medications form the mainstay of treatment for the majority of patients with neck and low back pain.
These can be broadly divided into tablets you can get over the counter, and those that need a prescription.
Nonprescription Pain Medications
While there are many over-the-counter pain medications used to address back pain, the two most common types are paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs (eg Brufen).
Because each works differently to address the pain, they may be taken at the same time. For example, a patient in severe pain may take the recommended dose of paracetamol, and then two to three hours later take the recommended dose of ibuprofen, and repeat this pattern as appropriate. Each drug has its own side effects so please get advice from your doctor if you are unsure if this is right for you.
Prescription Pain Medications
For short periods of time, prescription medications (such as narcotic pain medications or muscle relaxants) may be helpful to alleviate pain or related complications.
Other classes of drugs (such as antidepressants or anti-seizure medications) can also help modulate the sensation of pain and can be taken on a prolonged basis.
There are risks, side effects and drug interactions with any medication, so a medical professional should always be consulted prior to taking medications. Patients should be especially cautious with medications if they are on other medications or have any significant medical conditions (e.g. diabetes).
There are also some pain patches available now- which you can change every 3-7 days- thus avoiding the need for taking regular painkillers. If you do get some side effects with the medication please consult your doctor.
While a few major risks and side effects are outlined for some medications on this site, patients should always read the label and package inserts and consult with a doctor for a complete understanding of risks, side effects, and drug interactions.
What if they stop working?
As pain becomes more chronic sometimes the medications stop being effective.
It’s a good idea to see your doctor about this . They can prescribe stronger pain killers. There is a risk of addiction to strong painkillers like Morphine or Tramadol if they are taken for long periods. You may need to come off them slowly if you have been taking them for a long time. In general we discourage patients from taking pain killers for the very long term, if at all possible.