What to Take for Back Pain Relief?


Non-Prescription Medication

Non-prescription medications are one of the most common ways to treat common back pain. These include over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, as well as topical ointments and creams.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of these medications, and what they can do to help alleviate back pain:

Over-the-counter pain relievers

Over-the-counter or non-prescription medications can be an effective option for the relief of mild to moderate back pain. These pain relievers generally provide temporary, short-term relief of symptoms such as inflammation and muscle spasms.

Common non-prescription medications include aspirin, ibuprofen (MotrinTM and AdvilTM), naproxen (AleveTM), acetaminophen (Tylenol TM), and combinations of these drugs. Each has its own potential side effects and drug interactions, so it is important to be aware of their potential before taking any medication.

It is always a good idea to speak with your doctor or a pharmacist about any questions you have about these medications before taking them. Depending on your allergies or other health concerns, some may not be appropriate for you at all.

In addition to the potential dangers associated with misuse of these drugs, they should not be used long-term as they can cause stomach upset or bleeding in some individuals when taken consistently over time at recommended dosages. If you find yourself needing pain relief more than 2-3 times a week for extended periods of time it is important to speak with your doctor in order to look into other options.

Anti-inflammatory medications

Non-prescription medications are the first line of defense for treating lower back pain. Over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin can help ease your discomfort depending on the type of back pain you’re experiencing.

Anti-inflammatory medications are most effective when taken in combination with other treatments such as heat or physical therapy and exercise. Common anti-inflammatory medications include ibuprofen and naproxen sodium (generally sold as Advil, Motrin IB, and Aleve). You may also be prescribed a stronger non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to control your pain including meloxicam, celecoxib, or diclofenac.

It’s important to take OTC medications only as directed by either the label or your doctor’s instructions. Taking too much can lead to serious side effects such as upset stomach, increased risk of bleeding problems, and even heart attack or stroke in some cases. If you experience any side effects from taking these medications continually speak to your healthcare provider about finding an alternative treatment plan for managing your back pain.

Prescription Medications

Sometimes, prescription medications can provide back pain relief when over-the-counter treatments do not. Prescription medications are usually stronger than over-the-counter options, and they can help reduce inflammation, muscle spasms, and nerve pain. Commonly used prescription medications for back pain relief include NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, and opioids.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these different types of medications:

  • NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Opioids


Opioids are a type of drug that is commonly used to relieve severe or chronic back pain. They attach to opioid receptors which interact with the brain and central nervous system to reduce the perception of pain and block any associated stressors. Commonly used opioids for pain relief include morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and fentanyl.

It is important to be aware that using opioids can lead to dependence and addiction over time. Dependence on opioids occurs when a person needs more of the drug than prescribed by a doctor in order to experience the same effects. When this happens, it’s important to have support from family and friends as well as professional treatment programs if necessary.

When being prescribed an opioid medication, it is important to speak with your doctor about possible side effects before starting treatment. The common side effects associated with opioid use are drowsiness, nausea, constipation, dizziness or lightheadedness, difficulty breathing, and confusion. Long-term use of opioids can also lead to serious side effects such as depression and weakened immune system functioning which can increase the risk for serious illnesses like pneumonia or staph infections.

In general, these medications should only be used when other forms of treatment have not been successful in providing adequate back pain relief or addressing potential underlying health concerns causing the pain (e.g., muscle strain or sciatica). It’s also important for individuals taking opioids for back pain relief to be meticulous about adhering to their prescribed dosing instructions so they don’t develop a tolerance and need higher doses down the line in order to reduce their level of discomfort from the original condition being treated.

Muscle relaxants

Muscle relaxants are medications that help relieve pain, spasms, and stiffness associated with muscle injuries and other conditions. While they offer some relief from muscle pain, they don’t all provide the same level of relief, so it’s important to select the right one for your condition. Generally, these fall into two categories: central acting agents and peripheral acting agents.

Central Acting Agents: These medications work by affecting the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord. Examples of this type include baclofen (Lioresal), carisoprodol (Soma), chlorzoxazone (Parafon Forte DSC), and cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril). While these drugs can help reduce muscle spasms, many have side effects including drowsiness or nausea, so it’s important to talk with a doctor before taking any of these medications.

Peripheral Acting Agents: These medications work on the peripheral nervous system outside of the brain or spinal cord. Some common peripheral-acting agents used for back pain are methocarbamol (Robaxin), orphenadrine citrate (Norflex), and oxybutynin chloride (Ditropan XL). They can cause side effects such as dry eyes or mouth and dizziness so it’s important to take them as directed by a doctor in order to avoid potential complications.

In some cases, a combination of both types may be necessary in order to achieve desired results. It is also important to note that while muscle relaxants may help reduce some back pain symptoms, they do not necessarily address underlying causes such as arthritis or disc herniation. Therefore it is essential to speak with your doctor before considering any treatment plan for back pain relief.

Alternative Treatments

For anyone who suffers from back pain, traditional remedies like medications and physical therapy are not always the answer. Alternative treatments such as acupuncture, yoga, and massage are becoming increasingly popular for those looking for relief from their back pain. In this section, we’ll go over the different treatments available and how they can help:

  • Acupuncture – helps to reduce pain by stimulating specific points in the body.
  • Yoga – helps to reduce pain by increasing strength and flexibility.
  • Massage – helps to reduce pain and improve circulation.

Chiropractic care

Chiropractic care is a type of complementary and alternative medicine that offers a variety of benefits for people who experience low back pain. It is based on the idea that misalignments in the spine, posture, and function can lead to pain and other symptoms. Chiropractors use a variety of techniques to restore balance to the body and promote healing within the body’s systems.

The primary technique used in chiropractic care is hands-on manipulation, also known as spinal manipulation or adjustment. This involves applying pressure with the hands to specific points along the spine, following it with a circular motion, or using vibrational energy to restore balance to all areas of the body, including muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nerves.

Other techniques include:

  • Mobilizing joints
  • Massage
  • Muscle stretching
  • Traction
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Thermal therapy (or cryotherapy)
  • Nutritional advice
  • Home exercises/stretches

All these help loosen soft tissue structures and restore spinal mobility.

Chiropractic care can be used in conjunction with other treatments or as an alternative treatment on its own. It is safe for mild to moderate back pain sufferers who do not have any particular medical conditions that would make manual manipulation too risky for their health. It is important to discuss any concerns you may have about chiropractic procedures with your doctor before beginning treatment so that you understand what types of therapies are recommended for your particular condition or level of pain.


Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice in which very thin needles are inserted into specific points of the body to alleviate pain, improve function and induce relaxation. This traditional approach has become popular for chronic back pain in recent years. A 2014 meta-analysis concluded that acupuncture can be a useful pain relief strategy for lower back pain, particularly when combined with other treatments like massage and exercise.

When performed by a qualified practitioner, there are very few risks associated with this treatment. It is important to discuss the use of acupuncture with your doctor before starting treatment, though, as it may not be suitable for everybody. In some cases, it can aggravate pre-existing conditions or interact negatively with diabetes medication and blood thinners.

During an acupuncture session, the practitioner will assess your needling points based on your individual condition and pattern of pain or dysfunction. Other approaches such as moxibustion (the burning of certain herbs) and cupping therapy – which uses suction cups – may also be employed depending on the patient’s needs. Most sessions last between 30–45 minutes at a time; however, the duration can vary based on what course of treatment is best suited for the patient.

Exercise and Physical Therapy

Exercise and physical therapy are important components of back pain relief. Not only can exercise help to strengthen your muscles, but it can also help to reduce stiffness, improve your flexibility, and reduce pain. Physical therapy can help to stretch and strengthen your muscles and can also help to improve your posture.

In this section, we’ll discuss the best exercises and physical therapy techniques for back pain relief:


Stretching is one of the most common methods of physical therapy for lower back pain. Stretching helps improve flexibility and decrease tightness, allowing muscles to move more freely. It is important that you perform stretches correctly and within a pain-free range to help prevent further discomfort. Stretches can strengthen weakened muscles, reduce stiff joints, and decrease your risk of recurring or chronic lower back pain.

When starting a stretching routine, it’s important to loosen up your body first by walking or doing some light aerobic activity. Once you’re warmed up, choose three or four stretching exercises that focus on the calf muscles, the gluteal (butt) muscles, the hamstrings, and the hip flexors. To stretch properly:

  • Start slow and make sure your muscles are warm before stretching
  • Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds while concentrating on breathing deeply and calm
  • Do not bounce; stretch slowly into position and hold
  • Stretch only within a pain-free range
  • Don’t ignore any sensations that become uncomfortable or painful; if it hurts too much – stop!

Strengthening exercises

Strengthening exercises can help stabilize the spine, decrease the chance of injury, improve the range of motion in the spine, and decrease pain. These exercises usually involve working for your major muscle groups with standard strength training moves such as squats and deadlifts; easy abdominal and back strengthening moves such as bridges and planks; stabilization exercises for your abdomen and lower back such as side bridges, kettlebell swings, and single-leg deadlifts; core stability exercises including shoulder rolls and bird dogs; stretching to improve flexibility; as well as cardiovascular conditioning to help increase aerobic fitness.

Physical therapists also recommend isometric contractions or “static” exercises in which you focus on contracting your muscles without moving them. Many studies have found that these types of exercises are effective at reducing long-term pain associated with acute or chronic low back pain.

Low-impact aerobic exercises

Low-impact aerobic exercises are activities that use large muscle groups, move the body in multiple directions and provide a good conditioning effect. Low-impact aerobic activities include using an elliptical machine, swimming, marching in place, and walking on a treadmill. As you perform these exercises, aim for a target heart rate of 55 to 65 percent of your maximal heart rate. If your doctor allows you to exercise at a higher intensity, consult with a physical therapist who can help you determine how hard you should be exercising.

Depending on the cause of your back pain, aquatic therapy may also be beneficial. This type of exercise utilizes the resistance properties of water to improve strength and balance while limiting joint stress from gravity. Aquatic exercises typically include:

  • Leg movements such as kicking or marching in place
  • Upper body exercises like arm circles or gentle chest presses with aqua-weights or noodles
  • Working with specially designed pool accessories such as buoyancy cuffs and aquatic fitness belts that allow for a greater range of motion against the resistance provided by the water.

Other Strategies

Besides taking medication, there are other strategies to help manage back pain. Exercise, proper posture, and stretching can help relieve back pain and improve flexibility. Additionally, certain lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, can help reduce back pain.

In this section, we will cover all other strategies for back pain relief:

Heat and cold therapy

Heat and cold therapy are two non-medicinal treatments recommended by many physicians for back pain relief. Many people find that the alternating use of heat and cold can be beneficial for managing their symptoms.

When using either of these therapies, it’s important to start with cold packs first. Cold helps to numb tender muscles and reduce inflammation in the affected area. This type of treatment is often recommended for muscle injuries, sprains, or strains resulting from overexertion or accident. Great options include cold compresses or ice packs made up of a bag of frozen vegetables or ice cubes wrapped in a towel, which can be placed on the injured area for no more than 20 minutes at a time.

Once any swelling has subsided and there’s some degree of pain relief, heat therapy may help to further relieve symptoms associated with back pain caused by tension in the muscles. The heat helps to relax the muscle fibers providing additional relief from the pain associated with general soreness or stiffness; because it increases blood flow, heat can also aid in healing injury-related discomfort. There are several types of reliable heating options such as a hot water bottle warmed in tap water, damp heating pads wrapped lightly with a towel every 30 minutes up to an hour, as well as electric blankets used specifically for this purpose (not for sleeping).

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is an approach to pain relief that uses a mild electrical current to stimulate the nerves and reduce pain in the body. The device consists of a small generator attached to electrodes which are placed on the affected area. The electrodes are connected to wires that send an electric current from the generator to the muscles, stimulating them and reducing sensations of pain. By controlling and managing the intensity and frequency of this current, one can find relief from backache. It is believed that TENS can also help block pain signals, preventing them from reaching your brain.

TENS works by:

  • Stimulating the sensory nerve fibers in or near the painful area can help reduce muscle tension and transmit signals leading to reduced inflammation.
  • Releasing endorphins which act as a natural analgesic, relieve pain by blocking out pain signals sent towards your brain.

This strategy is non-invasive and drug-free but must be carried out properly with due care taken in order not to cause damage anywhere in the body. Additionally, an experienced medical practitioner or therapist will be able to create tailor-made strategies unique for each individual patient’s presentation of backache. TENS could prove particularly helpful for those who wish for short-term relief from short-lived episodes of acute lower back pain – it may provide effective therapies over a period longer than just minutes or hours too, depending on its implementation into a larger treatment strategy subscribed by a healthcare provider.

Massage therapy

Massage therapy is another non-invasive back pain relief method that can provide considerable relief and improve the overall function of a person’s back. Massage is an excellent way to relax and reduce tension in the muscles, promote circulation, and reduce the levels of biochemical substances that can increase pain. A brief course of massage may be sufficient, but long-term techniques such as stretching and manual mobilization may help to enhance the effectiveness of massage for both acute/chronic low back pain.

Massage therapy should always be done by a certified therapist who has experience treating back injuries and can perform techniques to both alleviate symptoms as well as improve core strength. Relaxing massage techniques such as Swedish massage and trigger points can help reduce muscle stiffness and associated aches, while deep tissue massage or myofascial release helps with muscle spasms and muscle tightness due to posture or injury. Massage therapists may also suggest lifestyle changes such as taking up regular exercise programs or improving posture habits that may help relieve your symptoms over time.

Frequently Asked Questions

There are a variety of medications that can be used to help relieve back pain, including over-the-counter pain relievers (such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen), muscle relaxers, topical analgesics, corticosteroids, antidepressants, and even narcotics. It is important to speak with your doctor to determine the best course of treatment for your back pain.

Other treatments for back pain relief include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage therapy
  • Heat and cold therapy
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy
  • Yoga, tai chi, and Pilates
  • Low-impact aerobic exercises, such as swimming or walking
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), muscle relaxants, and opioids

If you have been experiencing back pain for more than a few days, or if the pain is severe, it is a good idea to see a doctor. Your doctor can help determine the cause of your back pain, rule out any serious underlying medical conditions, and provide treatment options to help relieve your pain.

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