Every year, millions of prescriptions are written for pain medications and many of them are powerful opioids that can help but must be monitored because they can cause addiction and other side effects. However, there are many other medicines and treatments available for pain.

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Pain Medications for Back Pain

Pain that won’t go away is more than frustrating. It can be harmful to your health and well-being. It can keep you from getting a good night’s sleep, eating right and exercising. It can affect your mood and work and can keep you from spending time with your friends and family. If you’re one of 100 million Americans with long-term pain, also called chronic pain, you know how debilitating and frustrating it can be.

Mild pain medications can reduce inflammation and pain when taken properly. Pain medications cannot stop the effects of aging and wear and tear on the spine. But they can help control pain. If you are pregnant, you should not take any medication unless you have discussed it with your obstetrician.

Points to Consider:

  • Medications should be used wisely. Take them exactly as prescribed by your doctor and report any side effects.
  • Some pain medications are highly addictive.
  • Pain medication is less effective for controlling chronic pain if used over a long period.
  • Medication will not “cure” pain of degenerative origin.

Medications Prescribed for Back Pain include:

Medicine on shelves
  • aspirin
  • NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs)
  • COX-2 Inhibitors
  • nonnarcotic prescription pain medications
  • narcotic pain medications
  • muscle relaxants
  • anti-depressants


Aspirin compounds are over-the-counter medications that can help relieve minor pain and backache. The main potential side effect with aspirin is the development of stomach problems- particularly ulcers with or without bleeding.


Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include over-the-counter pain relievers. These medications were once only available by prescription. NSAIDs are very effective in relieving the pain associated with muscle strain and inflammation. Be aware that NSAIDs can decrease renal function if you are an older patient. Excessive use can lead to kidney problems.

COX-2 Inhibitors

A new class of NSAIDs is gaining wide acceptance in its ability to reduce inflammation. Commonly called COX-2 inhibitors, these newer NSAIDS work by selectively blocking the formation of pain-causing inflammatory chemicals. COX-2 inhibitors appear to be easier on the stomach, mainly because they don’t interrupt stomach enzymes like traditional NSAIDs.

Nonnarcotic Prescription Pain Medications

Nonnarcotic analgesics (pain relievers) are ideal in the treatment of mild to moderate chronic pain. Tylenol ™ and aspirin are the most widely used over-the-counter analgesics.

Narcotic Pain Medications

If you experience severe pain, your doctor might prescribe narcotic pain medication. Narcotics relieve pain by acting as a numbing anesthetic to the central nervous system. The strength and length of pain relief differ for each drug. Narcotics can have side effects such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, and sedation (drowsiness). Remember that narcotics can be addictive if used excessively or improperly.

Muscle Relaxants

If you are having muscle spasms, muscle relaxants may help relieve pain. They have only been shown to be marginally effective. Muscle relaxants also have a significant risk of drowsiness and depression. Long-term use is not suggested, only three to four days is typically recommended.


Back pain is a common symptom of depression and could be an indicator of its presence. Similarly, back pain can lead to emotional distress and depression. It seems that the same chemical reactions in the nerve cells that trigger depression also control the pain pathways in the brain. Anti-depressants can relieve emotional stress associated with back pain. Some anti-depressant medications seem to reduce pain-probably because they affect this chemical reaction in the nerve cells.

Some types of anti-depressants make good sleeping medications. If you are having trouble sleeping due to your back pain, your doctor may prescribe an anti-depressant to help you get back to a normal sleep routine. Anti-depressants can have side effects such as drowsiness, loss of appetite, constipation, dry mouth, and fatigue.

If you or a loved one suffers from spinal pain, you owe it to yourself to call Southwest Scoliosis Institute at 214-556-0555 to make an appointment.